Letter to my daughters on my birthday.

Lila Jane and Georgia, thank you for my birthday wishes and a morning full of cards, hugs, and laughter! You two and your mother are the loves of my life!

Ever since you saw the animated movie “Hercules” a few weeks ago, you’ve been fascinated with Greek mythology. Inspired by all your questions about the gods of the ancient Greeks, your mother ordered us a National Geographic “ancient mythologies for children” book. When it arrived over the weekend, you literally couldn’t wait to dive in and learn more about the deities, demigods, and their stories.

At one point, you landed on the page that tells the story of Cronus, the leader of the Titans who swallowed his children. His story was accompanied by the famous painting by the late 18th-century Spanish artist Goya, “Saturn Devouring his Son” (Saturn is another name for Cronus.)

You were terrified! You were so scared by the gruesome image that I had to stay in your room that evening until both of you fell asleep. We agreed that we would talk about it in the morning and figure out why Cronus ate (!!!) his children.

The next morning we dusted off our dog-eared copy of the Dictionary of Classical Mythology and discovered that Cronus had actually swallowed his children whole (he didn’t rip them limb from limb as depicted in the painting). We also learned that all of them survived after the youngest, Zeus, vanquished his father.

What a relief! We were all glad to find that the story had a happy ending.

The world is such a scary place right now. In all of my 53 years, I have lived through some pretty frightening stuff but never anything like this. You, your mother, and I are all living through and navigating a time when none of us — not one of us — knows what to expect or what will happen next. But we are getting through it together.

The same way we used that book to shed light on the unknown, on something that made us scared, we are using knowledge and learning to guide our family ship across these uncharted waters.

You’ve both been extremely brave this year. And your mother and I are immensely proud of you for your grace. We’re also proud of you for empathy and the way you care for each other, your parents, and your friends.

When you finally fell asleep the other night, I remembered how scared I am — how scared we all are — right now. I know that I couldn’t make it through these troubled and troubling times if it weren’t for your love, for the light you cast into the world, for your music and for your laughter, for your tears, fears, and your hugs, hopes, and dreams.

Your mother and I have way too many blessings to count. But the greatest of those is you. I love you, we love you with all our hearts. Every birthday is a great one when we know that you are in and of this world.

how to pronounce Xinomavro (and desperately seeking Zibibbo)

What a thrill to learn that the Greek Grape Name and Appellation Project was put to good use yesterday by the leading Italian wine blogger in the world today, Alfonso Cevola, who used the video above in his talk on Xinomavro at the annual Texas Sommelier Conference in Dallas (Texsom).

As the popularity of Greek wines and grapes like Assyrtiko and Xinomavro continues to explode in the U.S. (check out this brilliant post today by the hippest sommelier in America, the inimitable Levi Dalton), it’s remarkable how few know the correct pronunciation of Xinomavro.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I, myself, didn’t know how to pronounce it until I traveled to Naoussa and got a lesson from Constantine Boutari himself (he’s the owner of the Boutari winery group)!

He is such a sweet man and when I asked him if I could film him “speaking” Xinomavro, he improvised — on the spur of the moment — the talk he gave me (to the surprise of everyone in the tasting room at Boutari’s Naoussa winery).

You can listen to all the pronunciations over at the Boutari blog (where I have been posting for three years now).

naoussa

The Italian Grape Name and Pronunciation Project continues to expand and I have new videos to post this week.

I am looking for a native speaker to do Zibibbo. On Friday, a reader wrote me with a query about its pronunciation, which is trickier than it would appear. I’ll explain when I have a video ready.

But in the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions or requests for wineries/winemakers whom I should approach? Please let me know in the comments.

I greatly appreciate it.

And one last thing on this busy Monday morning: be sure to check out Alfonso’s superb post this morning on “Breaking the Code of Silence on Italian Wine.”

Now it’s time to put my nose to the grindstone. Buon lavoro, yall! Have a productive work week!

Greek grape porn: ripe Assyrtiko @Boutari #Santorini

Just had to share this image that Christina Boutari sent me yesterday to post over at the Boutari blog.

Look at the rich color of the ripe Assyrtiko, a grape variety that has captivated U.S. wine professionals over the last few years.

Harvest is expected to begin early this year in Greece, writes Christina. “It was a warm year overall,” she told me in an email.

Boutari will begin picking Saturday, she said.

Santorini, where Assyrtiko is cultivated, is such an amazing place, entirely unique in the panorama of Mediterranean viticulture.

Here’s a thread of posts on Santorini and my visit there and here are my notes on the origins of the toponym Santorini and enonym Vinsanto.

assyrtiko grape bunch

[just a little] girl with a pearl earring

girl with a pearl earring

It’s been a week filled with terrible news.

Boston, the explosion in Texas, and children going hungry in Greece.

Our hearts and prayers go out to all of our sisters and brothers in pain and in grief.

May G-d bless them.

Someday, Georgia P will learn about how hard life can be, how cruel the world.

But this spring morning in central Texas, she’s just a little girl with a pearl earring.

Buona domenica, yall…

Revisiting my research on Vinsanto (Greek) vs. Vin Santo (Italian)

I’m taking a break from blogging for the next couple of days and so I thought I’d revisit my research on the etymologies of the enonyms Vinsanto (Greek) and Vin Santo (Italian) and their philological relationship (for anyone who missed it the first time around or for anyone who’s only recently started following here).

Here’s a link to the thread.

Happy reading, everyone! I hope you drink something great for the holiday and have a safe and fun Fourth of July!

Tracie P’s new blog, heading @SottoLA, and Give Greece a Chance

In case you hadn’t already seen it, Tracie P has a new blog called Sugarpie where “mommy maximus” reflects on what it’s like to be a first-time mother and our experiences as new parents. I’m so glad that she’s blogging again and that she’s been applying her irresistible humor to the ups and downs of parenting… I love her and Georgia P so much and her humor, spirit, and beauty are an antidote to the often overwhelming challenges of being a first-time parent.

In other news…

On Friday and Saturday nights, I’ll be working the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles where we’ll be launching our new wine list for 2012. There are a lot of the old favorites on the new carta dei vini but there are also a bunch of new lots as well, like the Cornelissen Munjebel Bianco.

In today’s New York Times, Eric the Red wrote that Cornelissen’s wines are “unlike almost any others on earth, which people tend to love or hate…” Bring it on!

If you happen to be in LA this weekend, please come and see me and I’ll pour you something great!

And on a more solemn note…

With everything that’s been going on “on the ground” in Greece, it’s been really difficult to find inspiration to write about Greek wine for the Boutari Wines Project this year.

Evidently, my blogging colleague Markus Stolz — author of Elloinos, the world’s top Greek wine blog — has been suffering from the same aporia and he, like me, posted today about the Give Greece a Chance project: it’s a print media PR campaign spearheaded by Greek business leaders who are trying to raise awareness of the human suffering that’s happening there.

I highly recommend this page: it provides some background and some basic information on the grave situation there.

See also what Markus has to say.

Markus lives with his family in Greece and is watching this tragedy unfold firsthand.

“A lot of real human suffering,” he wrote to me today in a tweet. “I like initiatives like the one we both posted about, builds community and leads to change.”

Let’s hope so… And let’s not forget our sisters and brothers in Greece. Una faccia, una razza…

Notes from Santorini

I read the news today o boy: Greece’s “jobless rate for people ages 16 to 24… is 48 percent”; and on Monday “After violent protests left dozens of buildings aflame in Athens, the Greek Parliament voted early on Monday to approve a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by the country’s foreign lenders in exchange for new loans to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt.”

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on posting again this week on the Boutari blog.

It seemed like it would be in bad taste to post about things as frivolous as wine and winemaking when our sisters and brothers in Greece are facing some of the hardest times since the end of the of the second world war.

But then, this morning, I received the following, simple however deeply moving message from Santorini…

    Location: Santorini Megalochori
    Date: 2/16/2012, early morning

    The sun is rising, the sky is taking a marine blue color and the vine is still sleeping.

    The vine grower has already removed the unavailing branches. Now remains the time that vine grower will come and weave the young branches into a shape of basket.

    Petros Vamvakousis
    Winery Manager

They’ve been growing grapes using bush/basket training on Santorini since the Middle Ages and beyond. And come what may, the vine grower will come and weave the young branches into a shape of basket.

I love the wines that they grow on Santorini and thank goodness for them.

Click here for the Boutari blog.

Best meals 2011: Boutari winery Crete

I’ll never forget this June night in Crete, the eve of the first Greek austerity vote and one of the defining moments of the European debt crisis. In Athens, that same evening, protesters fire-bombed one of the luxury hotels in Syntagma Square. But in Crete, just outside the village of Skalani, the air was still and the food was delicious…

Many great meals were thoroughly relished by a wine blogger last week in Greece but the one that he cannot stop thinking and dreaming about was a dinner prepared by Maria Constandakis, who — together with her husband and agronomist Yannis — oversees the Boutari winery in Crete.

The meal began with a Cretan dakos, a wholewheat rusk, a bit larger but similar to the frisa of Apulia, where they top it with diced mozzarella, tomatoes, and tuna. Here, tradition calls for fresh tomato purée and crumbled feta. And while the Apulians gently soak their frisa before dressing it, the Cretans use the water naturally purged by the tomato when it is tossed with the salty cheese.

Next came the classic Greek zucchini “meatballs,” the kolokithokeftedes. The wine blogger had experienced this dish before but in his own words, “to have Maria’s, made from zucchini she grew herself in the winery’s garden, is a game-changer.”

The next morning, said wine blogger photographed Maria’s zucchini.

When you travel in Greece during summer, horiatiki — the classic village or summer salad — is served at nearly every meal. But there was something different about Maria’s. Upon further inquiry, the blogger discovered that Maria included freshly torn glistrida or purlane in her salad, also grown in her garden.

Still used as an effective folk remedy for certain ailments of the mouth, purlane grows wild in Greece (the blogger even found it along the sidewalks of one of the small towns he visited in Northern Greece). Like nettles, it slightly stings the tongue and according to legend, those who consume it are prone to loquaciousness. (Said blogger has never been accused of being long-winded! But true to legend, he stayed up late into the night discussing philosophy and politics with his companions over many glasses of raki.)

The pièce de résistance, however, was Maria’s slow-roasted lamb. Even though, technically, the meat had not been smoked, the effect was the same: the bones were so tender that that crumbled gently in the blogger’s mouth, rewarding him with their sweet marrow.

Said blogger is rarely said to eat dessert but there was no way for him to resist Maria’s yogurt topped with cherries she had stewed herself.

Said blogger enjoyed many great meals in Greece but none came close to that prepared by Maria.

In other news…

In the days that followed, said blogger, an accomplished linguist, learned that he had been incorrectly pronouncing the name of the most noble red grape variety in Greece, Xinomavro.

Click here to listen to the correct pronunciation.

Christmas Letter 2011

So many great things happened for Tracie P and me in 2011 but they are all eclipsed by the miracle of Georgia Ann Parzen, who arrived on Monday, December 12.

Around 3 a.m. this morning, as Tracie P and I cleaned the soiled linen in the bassinet and changed another dirty diaper, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the prayer that Jews say after going to the bathroom: Asher Yatzar ([Blessed Are You] Who Has Formed [Humankind]).

Blessed are You, HaShem, Our G-d, King of the universe, Who created the human with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities, exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, HaShem, The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Over the course of the year, Tracie P and I have been blessed with many miracles: the miracle of Georgia’s conception, the miracle of our healthy pregnancy, the miracle of Georgia’s delivery, and the miracle of our family, who supports us with their love and devotion.

This morning at 3 a.m., we paused again to reflect on the miracle of a dirty diaper and the health of our baby girl.

On this Christmas 2011, I’m happy to report my business has continued to expand and Tracie P’s been loving her new position selling fine wines. I launched a new wine column for the Houston Press and my band released a new record. My first wine list was well received in Los Angeles and I was invited to speak on Italian wine and wine writing at a number of conferences held this year in the U.S. and Italy. I’ll never forget my first Cretan sunrise on the day of the first European austerity vote, nor the Venetian sunshine on Tracie P’s face on a bright winter’s day on the Grand Canal.

This year’s blessings are too many to count and not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror without remembering the long and often challenging road that delivered me to this special moment in our lives.

And so, on this early December morning, as Georgia and Tracie P slumber, and I can hear the first birds begin to chirp with the Texas dawn, I’ll say a prayer for a dirty diaper and I’ll thank my lucky stars that it turned out so right for strangers in the night.

Goumenissa, mon amour @Boutari

Una faccia, una razzaOne face, one race… The Greeks love that Italian saying (which refers to the two nations’s shared Mediterranean kinship).

Some people call me a Zelig: I have one of those faces and no matter what Mediterranean country I visit, I generally fit in. And such was the case when I visited Greece in June for the Boutari blog.

But when we visited the small and wonderful village of Goumenissa in Northern Greece, the villagers could pick me out as a foreigner from a mile away.

And they couldn’t understand why an American, with a camera, was so fascinated by their town.

My money was no good there: when I photographed the fish monger, he prepared a package of fish for me; at the bakery, the baker wouldn’t let me pay for her breads…

Sometimes, when life becomes to hectic and I feel overwhelmed by the rhythms of modern living, I think about and long for Goumenissa, mon amour

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