Nature doesn’t refine sugar. But refined sugar goes into your sparkling wine.

Earlier this month, a group of leading Italian wine writers sat down to taste a flight of nine wines, spanning 10 years, with my friends Nico Danesi, Andrea Rudelli, and Giovanni Arcari. Beyond their own wines (Arcari e Danesi, SoloUva, and Vezzoli Giuseppe, a 2008-2018 retrospective), the three Franciacorta growers and producers also included current-release wines from three marquee Franciacorta estates, covered in foil, to be tasted blind that evening.

The idea behind the tasting and selection of wines was to highlight the differences between wines made using the classic method and wines made using what the three 40-something franciacortini call the SoloUva (SOH-loh-OO-vah) method or Just Grapes method.

The classic method is analogous to the Champagne method (the fundamental difference is that only wines grown and vinified in Champagne can be rightly called “Champagne method” or méthode champenoise wines).

A “base” wine or wines are produced as still wine or wines (non-sparkling). A sweetener and yeast are added to the wine (or blended wines) to provoke a second fermentation (the tirage). The wine is sealed in bottle. The CO2 resulting from the pressurized second fermentation gives the wine its fizziness. The wine is then allowed to age “on its lees” (i.e., the dead yeast, a solid that results from fermentation). At the appropriate time, the wine is “disgorged” of its solids. It’s topped off with a sweetener if desired (the so-called liqueur d’expédition or dosage). And the wine is resealed and labeled for release.

(The above description of the classic method is a simplified one. For one of the best overviews of classic method winemaking, see the introduction to Tom Stevenson’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine or the entry for “sparkling wine” in the Oxford Companion to Wine.)

The difference between the classic method and the SoloUva method (developed by my friends) is that the classic method calls for refined sugar to be added for the tirage and dosage (topping off) while the SoloUva method calls for reserved grape must to be used as the agent for the second fermentation and the topping off of the wines.

Among the wines that Nico, Andrea, and Giovanni selected from their own cellar for the tasting, there was a dichotomy: two of their wines had been produced using the classic method; the three “blind” wines from other producers were also made using the classic method; and the remaining seven wines were made using the SoloUva method.

As they tasted through the 12 wines before them, the Italian writers immediately noted the blaring difference between the two categories: the classic method wines had distinctive aromas of “brioche,” “yeast” (a canonical descriptor, however misleading), “toast” etc.; the SoloUva method wines had “fresh” fruit aromas.

The discussion that followed (on picking times, phenolic ripeness, and different approaches to sparkling wine production) was as interesting as it was provocative. But it was plainly clear to all present that the oxidative style of classic method wines was starkly contrasted by the fresh and ripe fruit style of the SoloUva method wines.

Nico, Andrea, and Giovanni are not the first to employ reserved grape must as a sweetener in sparkling wine production. But they may be the first to propose such a method as a “purer” expression of their appellation.

Why add exogenous (as opposed to autogenous) cane sugar from Brazil when you can use grape sugar from the very same appellation? they asked their interlocutors.

When they call into question the wisdom of centuries of classic method wines from France, they may be veering from the enological into the ontological. But over the course of the gathering, Nico changed the nature of the conversation when he pointed out that refined sugar doesn’t occur in nature. Only humankind produces refined sugar, he noted, and refined sugar is partly to blame for many of contemporary society’s health challenges.

Nearly all sparkling wine is produced with the addition of refined sugar (and not just classic method wines; Charmat, Martinotti, and even some ancestral method wines are made using refined sugar). Wines labeled dosage zero, brut nature, and pas dosé are also made with the addition of refined sugar (some may be surprised to learn this).

Only history will reveal whether or not Nico, Andrea, and Giovanni’s wines will represent a new era of sparkling wine production. I like their wines a lot. But take my opinion with a grain of salt spoonful of sugar because I am biased by our friendship. What I can tell you for certain is that their wines don’t contain anything that nature didn’t give them.

All they need is grapes…

Here’s a song I wrote for them a few years ago (MP3).

Mother nature is yours and she is mine
And the tender grapes she grows on the vine
She gives us the earth, the sun, the sky
But it takes humankind to make the wine so fine

Two wineries from Soave that you’ll want to taste

In logology, it’s called “multiple discovery,” the notion that distinct cultures often produce similar and nearly simultaneous scientific discoveries unknowingly and independently of one another.

The phenomenon came to mind as I walked the halls of the third annual Vulcanei tasting in the Colli Euganei outside of Padua a week ago Sunday. Organized by the Colli Euganei Consortium, the tasting brings together hundreds of wines that have been raised in volcanic-rich subsoils: Campania (mostly Irpinia), Sicily (mostly Etna), Greece (mostly Santorini), and Veneto (Soave and Colli Euganei).

When I told some of my more-savvy-than-the-average-punter Italian colleagues that “volcanic wines” were all the rage in the U.S., they were as surprised as they were unmoved and unimpressed. It seems — at least to me — that the interest in these wines has emerged and developed on either side of the Atlantic free of international contamination (thus disappointing would-be diffusionists).

It was my first Vulcanei and I was blown away by the range and scope of the wines. And the massive Colli Euganei offering alone would have been worth the price of admission.

One of my biggest discoveries (however not multiple) was Le Battistelle (above).

What fantastic wines, with vibrant fruit and rich but not overpowering minerality! Organically farmed, family-raised, and with lovely hand-drawn labels, these wines have all the right stuff to appeal to the American market. I believe a few bottles have found their way to California but none of the mid-sized importers of natty and groovy have picked up on these gems. I hope one of them does soon.

When I pointed the wines out to a superbly experienced taster in our group of wine professionals, he noted how these wines taste like “real Soave” and not the many trumped up wines that the appellation seems to favor these days. I really loved every wine I tasted from Le Battistelle — wholesome and delicious.

Another one of my big Soave discoveries on this last trip to Italy was Filippi, an estate that has already generated buzz among the American enocognoscenti but still hasn’t landed with an importer here.

These gorgeous wines are focused, smart, and electric with aroma and flavor. I had the wonderful opportunity to taste with the winemaker at the Arcari + Danesi/SoloUva “Friends in Wine” event in Franciacorta a week ago Saturday (it was also a birthday celebration for my bromance Giovanni Arcari). Like many young growers in Soave, he’s taken over his family’s vineyards and has been making his own wine instead of selling the fruit to the cooperative. Similar to what’s happening in Langa, it’s a trend analogous to the “grower Champagne” movement from the late 1990s. And we’re all going to be the better for it.

I am really smitten when Filippi’s wines, from the entry tier to the flagship single vineyard bottling. I know it’s just a matter of time before they get snatched up by an American importer. I just hope it’s the right one. Great wines and great folks.

Oh and about that wild party in Franciacorta?

Here’s what results from a little “day drinking” (as we call it in Texas):

Their Love Is Here To Stay

From the department of “some people want to fill the world with silly love songs”…

Their Love Is Here To Stay

A girl who grew up in southeast Texas
A boy from California
She was born on the Louisiana border
He grew up somewhere outside of LA

Storms may blow
Sand and stone may crumble
Their love is here to stay

Folks back home they say she’s crazy
To love a spirit such as he
She’s been a around the world that lady
The only one who knows her mind is she

Storms may blow
Sand and stone may crumble
Their love is here to stay

The water’s surely rising
But they are not afraid

The cold may howl
The night may call from the shadows
But their love is here to stay

It’s been nearly 10 years since I first came to Texas to be with Tracie. “Their love is here to stay…” I love you, piccina!

Nothing Good Rhymes with Santa Claus: NEW XMAS SINGLE and NEW ALBUM from my band The Go Aways

BUY THE NEW ALBUM HERE. JUST $9.99!

In another time in my life, writing and recording songs and performing live with my band was a main focus. Since 2013, when my French indy rock band Nous Non Plus stopped touring, my music career has taken a backseat to other interests and pursuits.

But this year, after I met my now bandmate Gwendolyn Knapp in Houston and first heard her songs, we decided to perform and produce an album culled from her songbook in my home studio.

The result is Turn Away (see the liner notes below). It’s available for sale (just $9.99!) on CDBaby as of yesterday and in a few days you’ll be able to find it on all the mainstream music streaming platforms (including iTunes and Spotify).

The album includes our Christmas single “(Nothing Good Rhymes with) Santa Claus,” the one track on the album that we co-wrote. As you’ll see in the video above, it’s a lot of fun and really fits the mood for this year’s holiday in America.

We hope you enjoy the music as much as we did producing it. And we thank you in advance for your support (please buy our album!).

Merry Christmas!

Where did the songs on “Turn Away” come from? How did the lyrics come about, you ask? It’s hard to say. Each song I write just starts with the simple act of fingers on guitar string and then some raw emotion takes over. As Hank once asked of David Allen Coe in “The Ride”: “Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?” Everyone with a guitar and half an ego hopes to answer that question.

Even so, these songs are not autobiographical, but they are drawn from the same stockpile of imagery, feelings, experiences, and general craziness that inspire all of my writing. The voices in these few songs run dark and rampant. Basically, they’re just female narratives put to music, kind of southern gothic, kind of sappy, kind of funny, kind of creepy.

Such is the case with “Drowned,” which actually just began with the chorus some day it’s gonna catch up with you (I’d recently been cheated on when I came up with that little gem) but the lyrics evolved over time into an Old Western-inspired payback tale: A young girl and her sister hiding from the man that’s killed their entire family (as well as two pigs and a deaf mute), and planning to seek revenge on him.

I have a predisposition for writing about bad things, I suppose, having grown up a sixth generation Floridian in Pasco County. My family had its share of dysfunction, mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, baggage, lock ups and let-downs. All that seeps into everything I create, but I also just like the idea of writing songs that turn the trope of country or Americana or rock or folk on its head. Songs that may come off sweet and universal, but always feel a little unhinged when you get a closer listen.

Gwendolyn Knapp
December 1, 2017
Houston, Texas

Turn Away
by The Go Aways
Houston, Texas

1. Drowned
2. Bad People
3. Sweet Talking Man
4. Will You Still Be On My Mind
5. Cold Women, Wine, Whiskey, And Weed
6. Turn Away
7. (Nothing Good Rhymes With) Santa Claus

All songs written by Gwendolyn Knapp except “(Nothing Good Rhymes With) Santa Claus” written by Gwendolyn Knapp and Jeremy Parzen.

It’s Only About Music (ASCAP)
Have We Got Music for You (BMI)

Produced by Jeremy Parzen.
Recorded at Baby P Studios (Houston, Texas).
Mastered by John Moran Mastering.

Vocals and guitars: Gwendolyn Knapp
Bass, additional guitars, keyboards, percussion, drum programming, and background vocals: Jeremy Parzen
Drums: Richard Cholakian

The Go Aways use the ToneCraft Bass Preamp.

Special thanks to Tracie, Georgia, and Lila Jane Parzen.

TheGoAways.com

© Terrible Kids Music 2017
Warning: all rights reserved
Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.
Made in U.S.A.

Parzen family is thankful for… (Happy Thanksgiving)

The Parzen family has a lot to be thankful for this year.

We’re thankful that our house didn’t flood and we were all safe in Hurricane Harvey.

Thankful that Georgia got into the music magnet school and she is enjoying her violin lessons.

Thankful that Lila Jane is enjoying her last year of preschool as she grows into a “big girl” who loves writing songs, singing, playing “guitar” (ukulele), and dancing.

Thankful that Tracie’s business is expanding and mine continues to thrive.

Thankful that everyone in our extended family is healthy (knock on wood).

But most of all, we are thankful to have each other.

Even as we have faced personal and professional challenges this year, we always know that we can come home to each other and to the loving, wholesome home that we share together in southwest Houston.

Even in the face of our nation’s ongoing political turmoil, the seemingly unstoppable rise of ethnic and religious intolerance in our community, and the continuing decay of civil discourse in our nation, every one of us — Georgia, Lila Jane, Tracie, and daddy — has each other to count on and to love.

It’s been the worst of years, it’s been the best of years. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. G-d bless and G-d speed in fulfilling your dreams.

Rock out with me, Gwendolyn, and The Go Aways this Sunday in Houston!

On Sunday, October 29, my new band The Go Aways will be playing its first real show at 13 Celsius, one of my favorite wine bars in my adoptive city.

We play one set at 5 p.m. Two other Houston-based bands, Londale and Golden Cities, follow.

The Go Aways came together earlier this year when I met the new food editor at the Houston Press, Gwendolyn Knapp, a widely celebrated author of non-fiction, including the memoir After a While You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter. As the weekly rag’s unofficial wine writer, I made a point of greeting our new fearless leader, who moved to Houston to take the position, by taking her out for a glass of wine (go figure!).

Over conversation, she mentioned that she was also a songwriter. That led to a jam session where I discovered that she has a truly unique and utterly compelling songwriting and guitar-playing style. It didn’t take long before we decided to start a band and make a record based on her songbook (in my home studio). The Americana-psychedelic-country tracks are often dark and darkly humorous. And they all rock. We hope to release our debut album by Christmas of this year.

In the meantime, Gwendolyn’s become a great friend to me and to the family and our girls, ages 4 and 5, always look forward to our sessions and her songs.

We also have a couple of Christmas songs that we’re working on. I can’t wait to share them.

In another time in my life, music was a central focus for me. And in certain periods when I was much younger, it was even the way that I made a living. Performing for live audiences and hearing my songs on radio, TV, and in films has always been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I miss it a lot and I’m so glad to be playing and recording with someone whose music I dig so much. And I’m so glad to have found a bandmate in Gwendolyn, who is as simpatica and kind as she is talented.

Please come and check us out this Sunday, Oct. 29 at 13 Celsius, where the wine will be flowing and the tunes jamming.

Hope to see you there! Rock on!

Rock with me this Friday, July 14 in San Diego: my 50th birthday concert in La Jolla

After nearly 50 years on this planet, I’m allowed to take a little vacation, right?

Tomorrow Tracie P and I will be taking our girls to La Jolla, California where I grew up and where I will be performing a set of music with one of my old and beloved bands, The Grapes, on Friday night.

We’ll be playing mostly classic country-Americana songs as we celebrate my 50th birthday. And there are a bunch of great bands playing that night as well, including a lot of guys I grew up with and a lot of friends who are coming down to sit in. It should be quite the show.

Beaumont’s is a pretty rowdy club so come prepared to dance (and drink) your ass off.

The Grapes are Jeremy “the Jar” Parzen, John Yelenosky, and Jon Erickson. T-Bone and other special guests will be sitting in on drums this time around.

The Grapes
Friday, July 14
(my 50th birthday bash)
Doors open at 8 p.m.

Beaumont’s
5662 La Jolla Blvd.
La Jolla CA 92037
Google map

And if you happen to be in San Diego on Saturday, July 15, we’ll be pouring some Nebbiolo from my cellar that night at Jaynes Gastropub. All the spots at the community table are already spoken for but if you stop by, I’ll fill your glass with some groovy Barbaresco (no joke… but be sure to reserve a table).

Tracie P will be there, too, on both Friday and Saturday nights. I’m taking the next few weeks off from the blog to enjoy my time off. See you in late July! Thanks for being here and have a great summer.

My 50th birthday concert in La Jolla and my client Ceci in the news

I was born on Bastille Day, July 14, 1967. To this day, my mother still claims that she heard La Marseillaise on the radio as she was heading to the hospital to deliver me into this world.

Ever since I was a kid and discovered the Beatles, I wanted to be a guitar player and a song writer. And by the time I was in high school, I was already playing and singing in rock bands with my friends.

I was 20 years old when I co-wrote my first song to appear in a major motion picture. But it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I really made a mark in independent music.

During my decade in New York, two French-language bands I played with and wrote songs for — Les Sans Culottes and Nous Non Plus — were headliners in the downtown indy rock scene. In 2003 we opened for Ringo Starr and Norah Jones at the storied Bottom Line in Manhattan. And in 2006, after licensing a number of songs to television shows and movies, Nous Non Plus had a college radio hit record. We stayed in the top 10 for four weeks.

You could say that I was born to be in a French rock band.

This year for my birthday, I won’t be performing with my old bandmates, now scattered across Europe and the U.S.

But I will be playing a set with some of my best friends in La Jolla, California as I celebrate my 50th birthday.

On Friday, July 14, 2017, we will be rocking out at Beaumont’s in Bird Rock on La Jolla Blvd., one of the rowdiest clubs in San Diego (no joke).

If you happen to be in San Diego that evening, please join me to celebrate my half century on this planet. It’ll be a super fun night. Stay tuned for more details.

In other news…

My newish client, Lambrusco producer Ceci, was in the news last week.

Click here to read an interview with legacy Parma producer Alessandro Ceci (below) in Grape Collective.

I connected with Alessandro and the Ceci family thanks to their consulting winemaker, Nico Danesi, one of my best friends in Italy and arguably the best classic-method producer in the country right now (I’m biased, of course, but there’s no question that Nico’s Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta and SoloUva Franciacorta have set a new benchmark for the appellation).

The Ceci are ramping up their presence in the U.S. with a growing presence in New York City and a new California importer coming online in just a few weeks.

The wines are great and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Taste them and I know you’ll see why they stand apart from the crowded field of Lambrusco today.

All in all, it’s looking to be a pretty good summer. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll come out to celebrate with me and my friends on Friday, July 14 in La Jolla. Tracie P will be there that night as well.

In Austin, Texas the good food, wine, and music just keep flowin’…

Over the last week, I visited Austin twice for work and for fun. Here are some highlights from my trips to the River City, where the good food, wine, and music just keep flowin’…

The meal I had at Lenoir with colleagues was one of the best and most original I’ve had this year. The food was thoughtful and fun yet wholesome, nuanced, and balanced, and the ambiance was magical with its old-time Americana feel.

The wine list was also spot on, with lots of natural selections, and I loved their new outdoor wine bar with its ancient oak trees. Super cool…

We all swooned over the cocktail program at Half Step in the historic Rainey Street district near downtown.

We were there with my friend Bryan Poff, who knows the owners: they hooked us up with a tour of their ice house where they “cook” and cut their own ice. Honestly, I didn’t know about the whole house-cooked ice thing. It’s got to be clear and it’s got to melt slow. Literally cool…

Stiles Switch, right by our old house, is still my go-to for classic bbq.

It’s one of the few places that remains open late (by ‘cue standards) and it serves beer, which is awesome. Smoking cool…

There’s always a lot of great shows happening in the “Live Music Capital of the World.” But whenever I visit with out-of-town friends, I try to make it to a Dale Watson set.

It was all happening at the classic Texas dance hall the Broken Spoke on Saturday (one of the last old-school dance halls left in the state). Groovy cool…

I was really stoked to learn that my friend Matt Berendt (left) will soon be opening the fourth location for his mega-successful wine program at the Grove Wine Bar. I met up and tasted with him and Grove sommelier Graham Douglass (right) at the West 6th location in downtown.

I’ve always thought that Matt should write a textbook on how to run a wine list. And I’ve always been inspired by an adage of his that I often use when I lead tastings and seminars: trust the wine, not the story. So true and so truly cool…

What’s not to love at Vera Cruz All Natural taqueria truck on Cesar Chavez? It takes them like 30 minutes to make a breakfast taco, even when it’s not busy. But it’s so worth it. I’m never one to believe the hype but in this case it’s well deserved. Real-deal cool…

And dulcis in fundo, last but not least, we grabbed some gelato at Dolce Neve on South First before we headed out last week. I hear that the nice folks there will soon be opening a place in Houston. I love their whole schtick and the gelato is purely delicious.

Excuse the pun but… utterly cool…

Hitler humor no longer funny in Trump America

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress (Charlie Chaplin, 1940).

donald-trump-hitlerMel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” is one of the greatest joys and regrets of my life as a parent.

Tracie P and I are big Broadway musical fans. And so it was only natural that our love of “song and dance” would rub off on our children.

Early on in our lives as parents, we had to eliminate “The Book of Mormon” from our playlists because of the pervasive profanity and the delicate subject matter. After all, my in-laws are devout Methodists.

But with a little real-time manual editing (Yiddish profanity doesn’t count), “The Producers” managed to make the cut. And our girls love it. The number “Springtime for Hitler” is their favorite and it’s their most frequently requested song (trumping even “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” believe it or not, another big hit at our house). They have no idea what it means or why it’s funny. They just love the music and the cadence of the actors (“ever eat with one?”).

We have a rule: “The Producers” can only be sung in the car, at home, or on the phone (Georgia P added that last medium for good measure) because not everyone likes “The Producers” as much as we do.

All things considered, we’ve struck a healthy balance of self-censorship and a sense of what’s appropriate at home and in public. Georgia is always the first to admonish me if she catches me humming “Keep it Gay” at the mall.

But in the light of the numerous anti-Semitic episodes that have taken place in the U.S. since the advent of Trump America (some of them very close to home), the Hitler humor that we used to enjoy together (“You’re looking for a war? Here’s World War II!”) has lost its sheen.

Less than two weeks before Christmas last year, anti-Semitic episodes were reported at the University of Houston. Our niece (Tracie’s side of the family) is in her second year of college at UH and it’s conceivable that our own children will go to school there someday. I never would have thought that anti-Semitism would still be so prevalent in my daughters’ lifetime. But evidently it’s alive and well on college campuses (and it was already on the rise before the election).

Just a few days later, it was reported that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, a political party that nearly came to power in the country’s parliamentary elections last fall, a party that espouses anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric (remember that many Muslims are Semites), a party founded by ex-members of the Nazi party. How’s that for funny?

And just last week, swastikas and “white power” were among the graffiti spray-painted on the walls of a high school in an affluent Houston neighborhood.

My friends in New York City (where I lived for 10 years in my 30s) tell me that they have recently seen “Trump” scrawled next to swastikas on the subway. And it was only a few days after the election that Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn Heights!) was defaced with swastikas and slogans of “Go Trump.” I “never, ever, ever” saw anything like that in my decade in city where the Statue of Liberty looks out over Ellis Island.

I don’t ascribe or attribute these episodes to Trump. But I do know that before the presidential campaign and election, such episodes were a rare occurrence. Now they are not.

That’s going to be a lot harder to explain to my semi-Semitic children than the humor in “The Producers.”

Hitler humor has a long and grand tradition in the U.S. Disney and Spike Jones were among the pioneers (see video below) as was Charlie Chaplin. Lenny Bruce was another (“How Hitler Got Started” is one of the brilliant sketches of the American comedy canon imho).

Mel Brooks’ musical and 1968 film by the same title are supreme expressions of that legacy. But they just aren’t funny anymore. The chord they strike now rings too close to home.

Please view and listen to Chaplin’s speech below, the finale of “The Great Dictator” (1940). His words couldn’t ring more true.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.