If you’re heading to Chianti Classico, don’t miss Osteria di Brolio.

I’m actually heading out again tonight for Italy to meet a new client (more on that later). And I still haven’t finished blogging about my early September trip!

That’s the fiorentina at the Osteria di Brolio, Ricasoli’s wonderful tavern on the grounds of the estate just down the road from the castle’s entrance.

My friend and colleague Maurizio Gamberucci, deputy director for the Italy-America Chamber in Texas and a native Tuscan, met me there for dinner on the very day that Ricasoli started harvesting its Sangiovese.

Beyond the steak — and wow, what a steak that was! — the menu there has become more creative and playful since chef Franco Sangiacomo returned.

Many east-coasters will know him from his celebrity turn as a chef in Washington D.C. where he cooked for a who’s who of American power players.

He’s brought a delightful contemporary touch to the classics at the osteria. Our dinner was fantastic.

It was one of the best and most memorable meals of that trip. I can’t recommend it enough.

I slept that night at Ricasoli’s “Agriroom,” a spartan but perfectly anointed bed and breakfast in the main piazza of the small village where the Ricasoli offices are located.

It was perfect and very affordable and the wifi works great. Breakfast in the morning at the “Agribar” on the first floor of the building.

Early the next morning, I headed up toward the castle for a daybreak run. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Friday night and Saturday morning in Chiantigiana.

If you’re heading to Chianti Classico this season, check it out. And the tour and museum — including a great survey of Chianti Classico soils — is so worth the price of admission. Francesco Ricasoli has done an excellent job of updating it and even the family’s private chapel in the castle is now open to the public. It’s stunning.

Next stop: Turin. Wish me luck and wish me speed!

Italy’s “best sommelier” competition open to Italian candidates working abroad.

From the department of public service announcements…

Earlier this month, the Italian association of wine shops, Vinarius, and its partner group, the association of Italian wine shop and wine bar professionals, AEPI (Associazione Enotecari Professionisti Italiani), launched the second annual Best Italian Sommelier Competition.

Qualified candidates include “owners and staff of classic wine shops and public-facing wine and spirits-focused businesses,” write the organizers on their website. Their goal is to “foster dialog and offer a platform where wine professionals can gain a deeper understanding of the challenges that the wine trade is currently facing.” It seeks to create an environment of “collegiality and inspiration that will help all members of the trade to grow.”

And like last year, the first in the competition’s history, there is a special category reserved for Italian sommeliers working abroad.

Given how many Italians are currently working in the U.S. wine trade, I encourage my U.S.-based Italian colleagues to compete. No pressure but… let’s bring it home to the U.S.!

Visit the competition’s website for rules, dates, and info.

Where wine, civic responsibility, and eco-awareness collide.

Thanks to everyone for the wishes for our new house! It’s been a crazy week between moving and unpacking. But we are settling in nicely to our new home. Thanks for thinking of us. It’s great to be finally getting back into the groove…

The world of wine is encyclopedic in breadth and scope. No matter how much you know, you’ll never know everything there is to know about wine.

That maxim came to mind the other day during a virtual tasting with two Italian winemakers (via the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce in Houston where I work as a media consultant, content creator, and presenter).

While I’m certainly not the first to notice the eco-friendly icons on the back label of a bottle of wine, it was my first time seeing the above markers — bottom, left — that guide the end user on how to recycle the various elements in wine’s detritus: the cork, the bottle/glass, the aluminum capsule, etc.

“Check recycling guidelines with your local authorities,” says the note underneath the images. “Separate the components and recycle them correctly.”

I’ll never forget going to Italy for the first time in the late 1980s and seeing battery recycling kiosks on every block. Why don’t we have that in America? I thought to myself.

I’ve always been impressed how Italians and Europeans in general see recycling and, more broadly, eco-awareness not as a “feel good” campaign but rather as a civic responsibility.

In the Italian wine world today, you see this nearly everywhere.

I really liked the wines by Usiglian del Vescovo in Pisa province where the owners grow Sangiovese and international grape varieties. The wines were fresh and vibrant in their aromas and flavors. And the prices ex cantina were excellent. The linguistic element may prove challenging for non-italophones (you had me at “Usiglian”!). But these wines would work great in a by-the-glass program anywhere in the U.S. I’m dying to try their whole-cluster Chardonnay and Viognier blend aged in amphora (which wasn’t in the flight I tasted the other day).

Great, well-priced wines in search of a U.S. importer.

I also have to give a shout out to the excellent wines of Gianni Tessari.

Before our virtual tasting the other day, I had only tasted wines he has made for another winery in Veneto. It was my first time tasting his eponymous label and I was blown away by the quality, the varietal expression, and the restrained alcohol. I loved the Soave but was also impressed with the Pinot Noir he grows, something very usual for Veneto. It clocked in at around 13 percent alcohol. Great!

That’s his daughter Valeria in the image above.

Virtual tasting is one of the legacies of the lockdowns. And I have to say that I like it a lot!

We bought a house! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tracie, the girls, and I couldn’t be more geeked to share the good news: earlier this month, we closed on a house in the same Houston neighborhood where we’ve been living for the last eight years.

It’s all thanks to Tracie, who started working full-time in April of last year as a realtor.

Because of her hard work, it only took about a half of a year for us to shore up our finances after the financial calamity of the 2020 closures. She didn’t just double our family’s income. She took it to the next level.

I have a big confession to make: I’ve been sleeping with my realtor!

Tracie’s insight and experience and her finely honed skills as a negotiator made it all possible.

It was stressful for both of us and especially her. But she got us the house and the mortgage we wanted, even as the rates were going up (that’s how good she is).

It’s been a surreal and magical time for all of us and maybe most of all for the girls.

The biggest news in their world is the fact that they will each have their own room. They are SUPER STOKED about that. And so are me and Tra.

When I think about the arc of our peripatetic lives — after all, Tracie was living in Italy when we first became aware of each other and I had been living in New York — it’s incredible and wonderful for me to think about how we finally got here.

I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world for our girls to grow up healthy and strong and surrounded by people of every gradation of humanity.

I simply can’t contain the happiness the new house has brought to all of us. Poo poo poo, as the old folks used to say. It’s a dream come true.

Thanks to everyone who has been rooting for us. We finally made it! And thanks for letting me share our joy here.

Happy Thanksgiving! We’ll be moving this weekend. Come give us a hand!

New Christmas song, new album are here! Thanks for checking out my music.

Just like every year, I write an EP worth of songs and a Christmas song that I produce, record, and perform myself in our home studio.

This year’s release has three (yes, count ’em) love songs for Tracie, including one I wrote about the time before we met. There’s a song for each of the girls and then another for both of them together. And there’s also a song for Doggynino, our very first dog.

Writing and performing with my band is one of the things that I miss the most about my life before Texas. But the music in me remains strong and I can’t help but produce a “disc” each year.

This year’s record is called “Day after Night,” after the title track, a love song I wrote for Tracie.

That anyone listens to my music means the world to me. Thanks for checking it out. Click here to listen online and to download. Turn it up loud!

Take Me Down to Christmas Town

This track is a full-on country song about someone trying to get to a Christmas party. With delicious anticipation, the singer looks forward to how fun it’s going to be. It’s always been a dream of mine to write a popular Christmas tune. This ain’t it but man I had a blast putting this one together. That’s me playing my Tele btw.

Day After Night

Tracie really changed our lives when she launched her new career as a realtor, more than doubled our family’s income, and created a whole new financial path for all of us. It made me reflect on when we first met and how she delivered “day after night.” I love her so much.

Southeast Texas Girl

Years before I met Tracie, I followed her blog about her life on an island off the coast of Campania. I bet when my old French bandmates hear this one they will say “this could have been a Nous Non Plus song.” I love how the bridge resolves on this track.

I Love You Lila Jane

What can I say? She has me wrapped around her little finger. I wrote and recorded this after we saw the new Elvis movie. The chorus was inspired by his “If I Can Dream” (such an awesome track, the Elvis one, I mean).

One in a Million Girl

We love Georgia’s endless questioning of the world around her as she tries to make sense of how it all comes together. Watching her grow intellectually has been so wonderful. And we love watching her as she discovers new music that she loves. She’s a one in a million girl, no doubt about it.

Doggynino

I’ve written songs for all of our dogs but I had never finished this one until the girls reminded me that Doggyninno still didn’t have his own. I actually wrote this not long after he passed. But I was still so broken up about it that I could never finish it. I still cry every time I hear the last verse. We still miss him even though he was part of our lives for just a few short weeks. His name will never be forgotten.

Parzen Family Girls

This was the first song I wrote for the album. Now that I’m in the autumn of my life, their joy and the joy they inspire in me are what keeps me going, day in and day out. I don’t know who I would be today if it weren’t for the Parzen family girls. They are so awesome.

One Love of My Life

I’ve been so lucky to have had such a rich life full of adventures intellectual and epicureal and travels far and wide. But nothing has shaped me and my life like the one true love of my life. I don’t know who I would be today without her. She is an amazing woman and I’ll never stop being inspired by her grace and beauty. And I’ll never stop writing and recording love songs for her.

Thanks for listening to my music! It really means the world to me. Thank you!

A Georgian restaurant grows in California wine country.

As I stuffed myself silly a few weeks ago at my friend Jeff Berlin’s new Georgian restaurant in Sebastopol, California, I couldn’t help but remember a restaurant that opened in 1998 in New York called Bondì.

At the time, faux “northern Italian” cuisine was still the benchmark for fine Italian cookery in the U.S.

The menu at Bondì was a breakthrough because it was being hailed as “authentic Sicilian food.” In other words, even though “Southern Italian” — aka Sicilian or Neapolitan — was passé, this was something brilliantly new and deliciously old at the same time.

And perhaps even more important to some big city dwellers at the time (including this lapsed New Yorker) was the fact that Bondì was serving “authentic” Sicilian wines and “native” Sicilian grape varieties.

Some here are old enough to remember that the late 1990s wave of the “new/old” Italian gastronomy was preceded by a new wave of Italian wine that focused on — excuse the pleonastic — the authentic and the native.

As I filled up on walnut paste appetizers at Piala, which is named after the traditional eastern drinking cup, I thought to myself, could Georgian cuisine be the new Italian of the up-and-coming generation?

I was blown away by how good the food was at Piala.

But I was even more impressed by Jeff’s attention to detail in recreating his cherished experiences in situ — the fruit of his many visits to Georgian wine country.

His maniacal passion reminded me of a few brave restaurateurs who courageously journeyed beyond the ne plus ultra of culinary complacency in the late 1990s in New York and California.

In retrospect, those italophilic entrepreneurs were on the cutting edge of a movement that would reshape the way citizens of the U.S. and the world would dine. They transformed an “ethnic” cuisine (ooooooo! how I despise that term!) into a world cuisine. And they had a “new” wine to lead them.

Just like a pseudo-Georgian I know in a sleepy wine country town on the west coast.

I highly recommend it.

Pisa university researchers believe they can prove correlation between soil type and aroma. Ricasoli is lending a hand to their efforts.

Above: Francesco Ricasoli, legacy Sangiovese grower and Chianti Classico producer, with technicians in the Ricasoli winery’s laboratory.

Researchers at the University of Pisa department of agricultural and food studies believe they have found one of the holy grails of viticultural science: a direct correlation between soil types and aromas in wines made from grapes grown in those soil types.

Their initial results were informally presented to an Italian wine trade observer on a September 2022 visit to the estate. They plan on publishing their results in 2023.

In a partnership that echoes the historic collaboration between the Iron Baron, Bettino Ricasoli, the current owner’s ancestor, and the University of Pisa’s agriculture department in the second half of the 19th century, the Ricasoli winery has allowed the scientists to use his large laboratory on the grounds of the estate. But more significantly, Francesco Ricasoli has also allowed them to use his grapes and wines for their work. Because the expansive Ricasoli property is planted primarily to Sangiovese, it offers the researches a unique opportunity to analyze aromas from a wide array of parcels, wines, and soil types.

Using gas chromatography, they have identified the compounds associated with aromas in wines from the different vineyards. And while the correlation between soil type and aroma has been studied and documented in the past, the scale of the current studies represents a breakthrough that could have global implications for the wine trade.

The effect of soil on wine has been a highly controversial topic in certain circles of the wine world. While some believe there is a direct relationship between the two, others have argued that the connection is much more nuanced and arguably not immediately apparent to the untrained olfactory.

The Pisa-Ricasoli research could definitively change that dialectic.

Taste Italian with me in Houston November 29 and 30.

Please join me on November 29 and 30 in Houston for a tasting of wines from Sicily, Calabria, and Abruzzo. It’s an Italy-America Chamber of Commerce gig and should be a fun time. Vinology (one of my favorite Houston wine bars) and Caracol (me and Tracie’s go-to anniversary and birthday destination, one of our favorite restaurants) are hosting. I’m sure some more bottles will be opened after each event. Hope to see you then and thank you for your support! Details follow.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, November 29-30 in Houston, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central is proud to present two wine tastings featuring three Italian producers: Cantine Bruni (Calabria), Isula di Pantelleria (Sicily), and Citra (Abruzzo).

The seminars will take place at Vinology on Tuesday, November 29, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; and Caracol on Wednesday, November 30, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The events are open to qualified trade and food and wine-focused media members. Seating is limited and is available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Click here to sign up for the Tuesday, November 29 event at Vinology.

Click here to sign up for the Wednesday, November 30 event at Caracol.

Constrained growing cycles create unforeseen issues in Burgundy. But for families who have been growing there for centuries, it’s just another day’s work.

Thanks to everyone who came out this year to make the Boulder Burgundy Festival 2022 such a great event!

And special thanks to the gathering’s featured educators this year, Elaine Brown and Esther Mobley, who led a fantastic seminar and tasting devoted to sustainability in Burgundy today.

Click here to see a Facebook album from the event (photos by me, the festival’s official blogger and media consultant, a gig I’ve been doing for more than a decade now).

This year’s Sunday seminar, which featured producers Simon Colin and Pierrick Bouley, was partly a continuation of the Friday morning talk that Esther and Elaine gave.

One of the most interesting elements that emerged was discussion of the constrained/shortened growing cycles that growers like Simon and Pierrick (both are the current generation of historic Burgundian families) have to face as climate change accelerates.

“These vineyards have been around for more than 1,000 years,” noted the 20-something Simon, whose family is one of Burgundy’s most famous. “We are only around for 30 or 40 years of that time. And like the generations before us, we have to face different problems,” like more frequent late spring frosts and warmer summer temperatures.

Pierrick made some of the most compelling comments when he discussed the issue of the contracted vegetative cycle.

As Elaine pointed out, warmer summer temperatures mean that ripening is accelerated in the final months of the grapes’ development. And that is reshaping the tasting profile for the wines. This is ultimately a worldwide phenomenon that is impacting grape growing across Europe.

But Pierrick’s insight, the fruit of timeless generational knowledge and experience, revealed something that might not be immediately apparent to the layperson.

When late season warm temperature shorten the cycle, making for, say, an 11-month as opposed to a 12-month cycle, that means that the next growing cycle is actually expanded.

When his family would start picking in September each year, said Pierrick, the cycle would more or less follow the 12-month calendar. But when they pick as early as mid-August, like they often have had to do in recent vintages, that gives the vines an extra month of dormancy. His family has begun to address the issue by experimenting with early winter pruning. But the new normal, as it were, is radically changing the way growers like him approach their work in the vineyard.

In other words, yes, the earlier picking times — something most are aware of — are changing the way the wines taste. But the accelerated start to the vegetative cycle is having a profound effect as well. Especially when it comes to the more frequent arrival of spring frost, the now syncopated timing becomes more and more delicate.

From an educational standpoint, it was one of the best festivals to date. And the wines by Simon (Chassagne) and Pierrick (Volnay) were exceptional. And of course, the brio — lubricated by great wines and food and wonderful people — was joyfully unbridled.

If you’ve never come up to experience the gathering, I hope we’ll get to see you next year! What a great ride! Same time, next year.

Every year I have to pinch myself: the thrill of getting to be part of an event like this, with wines that clock in WAY above my pay grade, has never lost its sheen.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to my good friend Brett Zimmerman, owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant and founder of the festival, who invites me back each year. I’m truly blessed to have a friend and colleague like him.

Thanks also to the amazing Heather Dwight, owner of Calluna event planning in Boulder, for the seamless execution over the long weekend of eating, drinking, and education.

The new wave of amphora is cocciopesto. Where did I find it? In Abruzzo, of course.

When I finally found my way to the Nicodemi winery in Colline Teramane in Abruzzo in September, I cautiously descended the steep driveway in my rented 500L to discover a paradise revealed behind the bushes that obscured the view from the road.

For those who have traveled for wine, it’s rare to come upon some place as breathtaking as this.

I was reminded of something Tracie once wrote on her blog: if I were a grape I would want to grow here.

As you can see in the photo above, in the Colline Teramane, the vineyards are literally located a stone’s throw from the Adriatic. It’s where some of the region’s best wines are raised.

It’s one of the magical things about Abruzzo in general: you’re close enough to the sea to reap the benefits of maritime influence (great ventilation, wider diurnal shifts, and cooler temperatures during summer); But thanks to the rapid rise in elevation as you head inland, you’re just far enough away to avoid the excessive early morning humidity that could cause mildew or rot.

The beauty and viticultural significance of the Colline Teramane were no surprise to me, of course.

And it should have come as no surprise that Elena Nicodemi (who is super cool btw) would introduce me to a new type of amphora that she and her brother have been using to make one of their top wines.

The material used to make these winemaking vessels is not the classic terracotta used by most potters. Instead, cocciopesto is used. Students of Roman architecture and interior design will recognize cocciopesto as opus signium, a material made of recycled tiles mixed with silt and mortar. If you’ve ever visited the Vatican, you’ve walked over cocciopesto floors.

From what I’ve been able to read online about these amphoras, their walls are actually more dense and less porous than their conventional terracotta counterparts. As a result, the process of micro-oxygenation is made even slower. This can make for wines that are even richer and more focused in aroma and flavor.

Some producers have found find that even during early usage, cocciopesto amphoras don’t impart any of its own “flavor” to the wines (some believe that brand new or newly used terracotta amphoras can impart their own flavor to the wine, although there doesn’t seem to be much consensus on this).

Potter Drunk Turtle first released its cocciopesto amphoras back in 2016. But this was the first time that I had seen one in use.

My visit with Elena was my last during my September harvest trip to Italy. As I wrote previously, it was another example of how everything I thought I knew about Abruzzo was wrong. Gloriously wrong.

Elena’s wines are superb and I highly recommend them to you. Especially her new Trebbiano Cocciopesto.

But more than anything else, I highly encourage you to go visit winemakers in Abruzzo. In each of my three visits, I learned something new and tasted compelling wines that thrilled and surprised me. I hope to get back there soon. Thanks for letting me share my journey with you here.