What’s the best glass for serving Lambrusco?

The quest for the perfect glass for the perfect wine is one that has long vexed wine lovers and professionals.

While there are some genuine technical aspects to consider when pairing stemware and wines, the fetishization of matching glass and fermented grape must is driven primarily by glaziers. They need, after all, to sell you more glasses.

In regard to stemware shapes historically paired with regional wines, the match is more often than not determined by one simple variable: local tradition. Whether the slightly flared balloons of Langa or the broader vessels of Burgundy, the different shapes perform the exact same functions (aeration and heat diffusion). But their shapes are different because the people who make the wines “have always done it that way” and “as long as anyone can remember.”

Like most 21-century wine professionals in the U.S., we use a classic Bordeaux glass for nearly all the wines we serve at our house — red, white, and sparkling — with one notable exception: Lambrusco. When it comes to the many wonderful sparkling reds and rosés from Emilia that we love to pour, the “stem” has to be a classic tumbler like the one in the image above. It’s what we call a “glass of the world” in our family lexicon because it’s the type of drinking vessel that you find in taverns and public houses across the globe.

In Emilia, where the locals drink Lambrusco ubiquitously and nearly exclusively (don’t ever try to bring them Brunello as I once foolishly did), the tumbler is the hands down glass of choice.

Is there a technical motivation behind this tasting? No, not as far as I can ascertain. Lambrusco tastes just as good in our tumblrs as it does in our Bordeaux stems. (But please, please, please: never serve Lambrusco in a flute. And on second thought, never serve ANY wine in a flute. But that’s another story for another day.)

In my view, the glass choice for Lambrusco is an aesthetic and ideological one. Low in alcohol and (ideally) with bright fruit and gentle fizziness, Lambrusco is meant to be a crowd pleaser for everyone to enjoy at the table. And so it only makes sense for it to be served in a “glass of the world,” a nod to its demotic nature.

No matter what wine you are pouring tonight, remember: if you can’t be with the glass you love, love the glass you’re with. One of the greatest wine experiences I’ve ever had was sharing Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne with Tracie backstage at one of my band’s show at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side when we were first dating. We poured it in clear plastic cups, the only option available (below). So go figure!

Oh and by the way, the Lambrusco in the glass last night was paired with nachos topped with refried beans and freshly sliced jalapeños. It one of the most satisfying pairings I’ve had this month. For real.

If you’re joining me tonight for our virtual wine dinner with Alessandro Medici of Lambrusco great Medici Ermete, be sure to use your tumblers instead of traditional wine glasses. And you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I heart Lambrusco: Taste with Alessandro Medici and me this Thursday in Houston.

In my experience, there’s no other wine in the world that more ably expresses the character of the people who make it than Lambrusco.

It’s as if the Emilians — the most joyous and sensual of Italians — had found a way to bottle themselves.

I’ve found this across the board, whether tasting with my many close friends there or opening a bottle at home with dinner. I don’t quite know how to describe or explain it. But if ever there were a genie in a bottle, it’s got to be a bottle of Lambrusco.

The magic ethos of their wines is just one of the reasons I’m thrilled to welcome my friend Alessandro Medici this week for our Thursday night virtual wine dinner at Roma in Houston (my client).

Alessandro is a rising star of Italian sparkling and he’s bringing fresh new ideas and energy to his family’s winemaking legacy. I like him a lot and he’s also a graduate of the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences where I teach (in normal years), another reason I think he’s got the “right stuff.”

See the menu and reservation details here.

And thanks for the support: these events are what’s keeping this restaurant alive. Support local businesses, including my own, by eating great Italian food and drinking great Italian wines with the people who love and make them.

Nicola “Dudu” Durandi, beloved Friulian winemaker, dies at 43.

Above: Nicola “Dudu” Durandi (right), beloved Friulian winemaker with Melania Spagnoli, Texas sales manager for his U.S.-based importing and distributing company.

Nicola Durandi, 43, a legacy grape grower and winemaker from Friuli has died. According to a local media report, the cause was a heart attack.

Known affectionately as “Dudu,” Nicola was a beloved figure in Udine where he lived with his wife and children.

His family’s Antonutti winery is one of Friuli’s leading producers of fine wines. He worked as the estate’s brand ambassador in the U.S.

Over the years, I met and tasted with Nicola on a number of occasions in Texas, a state he visited regularly. Earlier this year, he was the featured guest at one of the virtual wine dinners I host for a restaurant here in Houston.

Nicola was a warm man, with a broad smile and a hearty handshake. And he had that classic Friulian eagerness and genuineness about him.

Tracie and I were both immensely saddened to hear of his sudden passing and we would like to share our heartfelt condolences with his family. Our condolences also go out to the Impero wine team. Nicola will be sorely missed.

Sit tibi terra levis Nicolae.

Donald Trump and the Partisan Johnny (Beppe Fenoglio)

Yesterday, my Italian colleague and friend Filippo Larganà, editor of the popular Piedmont-centric wine blog Sapori del Piemonte, asked me to write a note about the Tuesday evening presidential debate for his site.

Here’s a link to my “op-ed” entitled “Donald Trump and the Partisan Johnny” (in Italian).

For readers who don’t know the works of Beppe Fenoglio, he was one of the most widely read authors of the 20th-century in Italy. His most famous work was his auto-biographical novel Il partigiano Johnny (The Partisan Johnny), the story of an Italian soldier in the Second World War.

After the 1943 armistice with the Allies, Johnny abandoned his post and headed back to his native Piedmont where he joined the partisans fighting German and Fascist armies.

In my post for Filippo’s site, I wrote about how Fenoglio saw Piedmont’s farming culture and its values as the source for the human courage and solidarity that were needed to vanquish the occupying forces.

Piedmontese viticulture grew out of that same culture and humanity.

It’s up to us to draw on those same values as we face the rising but still stoppable racism and racist violence in our own country.

When we find it, we’ll share the human courage and solidarity of those partisans. And perhaps instead of saying, I’m not a racist, but…, we’ll say I’m not a racist, but instead an anti-racist.

Heartfelt thanks to Filippo for letting me share my thoughts with his readers. And special thanks to Strega Off for allowing me to use their photo.

Image courtesy Strega Off, the organizers of an event that celebrates the prestigious Italian Strega literary prize.

Taste one of my all-time favorite wines with me this Thursday in Houston: Pertinace Barbaresco with winemaker Cesare Barbero

In case you haven’t been following the news about the fires in Napa and Sonoma, please see this harrowing account by leading wine blogger Alder Yarrow. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to our sisters and brothers on the ground there. See also this Calfund.org link with information about the current status of the fires and relief organizations that are taking donations.

This Thursday for our weekly virtual wine dinner at Roma restaurant in Houston, we’ll be hosting Pertinace winemaker Cesare Barbero (above) and presenting the cooperative’s Dolcetto, Barbera, and Barbaresco.

Whether the single-vineyard designates or the classic Barbaresco (the one we’ll be drinking on Thursday), these are some of my all-time favorite wines.

I started following Pertinace back in the early 2000s when I was still living and working in New York. For nearly two decades now, I continue to reach for these wines as one of Langa’s best values and one of the greatest expressions (imho) of Italian viticulture.

Roma owner Shanon and I have been working with the distributor to make the wines available at the same price he charges for all of these dinners. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be hosting Cesare and the wines this week.

See the menu and details here.

You can reserve by simply sending me an email (here).

I’ll look forward to tasting these extraordinary wines with you. Thank you for your support.

And btw, the importer recently gave me a bottle of the 2016 Dolcetto by Pertinace because I wanted to make sure the vintage was showing well. This wine knocked me off my feet with its vibrant fruit and balance. I thought it was stunning. I know our guests are really going to love these. They are really special wines.

A meaningful Yom Kippur.

My most vivid memory of Yom Kippur growing up stretches back to the year after I became bar mitzvahson of the commandment.

The services were held in a cavernous events hall (because at the time, our shul, now a large campus, was literally a house and the services were held in a living room).

Many conservative Jews like my parents didn’t attend Shabbat services regularly. But they all wanted to go to the High Holy Day services, Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), which take place 10 days part in that order.

My parents were going through an extremely messy divorce and my father had all but abandoned my mother, my brothers and me. But there I was, sitting next to Zane, in what felt like an airplane hanger to a 13-year-old dressed in an ill-fitting and very uncomfortable suit and rumpled tie.

I was so tired and bored that I could barely keep my eyes open when the rabbi called my name from the bimah. He was asking me to come forward to hold a Torah — the scroll where the five Books of Moses are transcribed — during part of the service.

Suddenly, I was paralyzed with fear. As hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t move my legs.

But after a long and awkward silence that seemed like an eternity, I mustered the courage to head to the bimah where I was handed the sacred text.

My fear — shared by 13-year-olds across the world, I imagine — was that I would drop the Torah.

As we were erroneously taught back then, a person who dropped a Torah would have to fast for 40 days. And everyone who saw the Torah drop also had to fast for 40 days.

But what weighed on me even more greatly was knowing that I would be letting my entire community down.

Although this was long before I would become a serious student of writing, the importance of this text was acutely engrained in me.

“Man is drowning in the sea of life,” one of my Hebrew school teachers once told the class (which was held in a trailer outside the house where the sanctuary was located). “The Torah is G-d’s way of throwing him a lifesaver,” he said, using the gendered synecdoche for “humankind” as was the custom in the early 1980s.

Would I drop G-d’s “lifesaver”? I thought to myself.

I had sweat through my suit jacket and was still shaking when the cantor had me pass the scroll back to him and I went back to my seat next my father. But I hadn’t dropped the Torah.

Today, on Erev Yom Kippur, the day before the Day of Atonement, that memory fills my mind. Except now, our children are my Torah.

In a world very literally gripped by plague, in a world where the air quality is so bad that my brothers and mother can’t go outside in my native California, in a world where Biblical flooding wipes away cities on the coast where I now live, in a world where my white neighbors still contend that people who don’t look like them must “prove their worth,” where my white neighbors tell me to “get the hell out of America” because of my beliefs…

In this world, Georgia and Lila Jane are my lifesaver. G-d has blessed us with them and we are called to nurture and protect them the same way we observe Their word.

Today, 40 years after I didn’t drop that scroll, they and their future are what give me hope for a world better than the one we brought them into.

May your fast be easy and your Yom Kippur meaningful.

Have you ever tasted a still Sorbara? I have thanks to a virtual trade tasting.

When the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central, my longtime client, first contacted me about helping out with a virtual trade tasting, I have to admit that I was skeptical.

The concept was as simple as it was ambitious. The project leader planned to convince producers in Italy not to send just a handful of bottles for each of their labels but rather multiple cases of each one. He and his team (I’m a member) would then reach out to leading Texas wine professionals across the state to set up one-on-one virtual conferences where the Texans and the Italians would each have the same wines in front of them. Using a time-tested logistics partner on the east coast and a new digitally based importing platform, the wines would be gathered in Florence and then sent to Texas to be distributed between trade members and media in Houston (where the chamber is based), Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.

On paper and in practice, it was nothing short of a herculean effort.

I was surprised that the producers were willing to ship so much wine for the uncharted waters of a massive virtual wine event. But ultimately, when they factored in all the money they were saving by not traveling to the U.S., scores of wineries were eager to participate.

And when you explained to incredulous Texas-based wine and restaurant professionals that the wine would be delivered to their doorsteps and that all they had to do was log on to a virtual 30-minute call with producers they selected, they were happy to take part. After all, not only did you get to taste the wine, but you had the opportunity to “spend some time with it” later in the day and at dinner. That’s something that rarely happens at a conventional trade tasting where you line up to get a small pour in a crowded and often chaotic ballroom or events space.

My ah-ha moment came when I sat down to taste a line of sparkling wines with a newish producer from Modena, Venti Venti. We had a great chat about the use of copper in organic farming as we tasted through their classic-method Lambruscos.

The wines were very good but I was the most curious about a still rosé they included in the flight. It was from Sorbara grapes, they told me.

I’ve been working in the wine trade for more than two decades now and Lambrusco and sparkling wine in general are some of my main interests. But I had never tasted a still wine made from a Lambrusco clone in all my years.

The day after the two-day event, I caught up with a Hosuton-based importer who was raving about a Gutturnio from Piacenza producer Zerioli.

That was when it struck me: if two veteran wine professionals can learn something new in a virtual tasting like this, there must be something to it.

I have seen the future of trade tastings and it’s name is “virtual.”

How to open a wine shop during a pandemic. Video interview with James Oliver of Vesper Wine.

Above: Vesper Wine owners and founders Aisha Savage-Shirley and James Oliver.

Late last week, I had the good fortune to get on a Zoom call (below) with James Oliver (above) who opened Houston’s newest wine shop, Vesper Wine, earlier this year.

Licensed as a winery, Vesper Wine is located in a part of Houston that some might call a “wine desert.” The status as a grape-to-wine transformer allows the business to considerable leeway in how it stocks and delivers its wines to customers across the state (wineries in Texas essentially exist outside the three-tier system and the state’s notoriously restrictive and anti-competitive regulation of the wine industry).

Working beyond the city’s inner loop (where most of Houston’s wine culture is concentrated), the new shop serves an under-served and wine-thirsty community eager for high-quality wine and high-caliber wine education.

Anchored around highly focused wine pedagogy combined with finely honed social media strategies, the store’s business model has proved an unmitigated success at a time when consumers have pivoted toward retail. As wine lovers go out to eat less often and increasingly want to create a high-end dining experience at home, wine merchants like Vesper Wine have become the focal point of the new wine normal. And James, who has that “people person” demeanor that you need to succeed in the wine trade, is providing his clients with consumer-friendly and tech-savvy wine knowledge that enhances their enjoyment — a sine qua non of the New Wine.

Check out the Vesper Wine site and the shop’s Instagram.

And watch the video below to learn how James managed to open a super successful wine shop in the middle of a pandemic that has gripped our city for more than half a year.

Thanks for being here. I know you’ll enjoy our chat as much as I did.

Drink a bottle of Barolo with Giuseppe Vaira and me this Thursday in Houston.

Photo by Ilkka Sirén.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be moderating a virtual wine dinner this Thursday with my good friend Giuseppe Vajra (above), legacy winemaker at G.D. Vajra in Barolo and one of the most soulful Langa growers I know.

Giuseppe will be joining me for our weekly event at Roma restaurant, my client, here in Houston.

I first tasted at Vajra back in 2010 and then later had the opportunity to work with Giuseppe here in Texas. Over the years, Tracie and I have enjoyed the wines immensely and I’ve featured his wines on restaurant lists I’ve managed. We have more than a few vintages of his Bricco delle Viole in our cellar. The family’s Riesling is another age-worthy stand-out among many others in the line up.

As every wine professional knows these days, this is a time for creativity. Roma owner Shanon Scott and I have been working with our suppliers to keep the price of these dinners low while still being able to offer our guests a unique and truly compelling experience. As if tasting with winemaker like Giuseppe weren’t enough, we were able to obtain his 2016 Barolo Albe specially for this event. But the price will be the same as always: $119 sends you home with dinner for two and three (yes, three!) bottles of wine including Giuseppe’s Barolo.

Click here for the menu and the other wines. (The Vajra Dolcetto is my 87-year-old mother’s all-time favorite red wine, btw.)

We expect this event to sell out quickly: please let me know if you’d like me to hold you a spot (click here to email me).

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). May your new year be filled with sweetness…

Shanah tovah u’metuka. May you have a good and sweet year ahead.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we eat apples and honey as a symbol of the sweet year ahead we hope G-d will grant us.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good and sweet new year.

From Chabad.org:

Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and well-being to those who are suffering!

Let us ask G-d for a Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year for the entire universe! Our High Holiday prayers, we are taught, have an extraordinary effect on the year ahead – let’s seize the opportunity!

Let us make firm, tangible resolutions to better ourselves and increase our mitzvot, in both our interpersonal and our G-d-and-us relationships.

And let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next week. Happy new year…