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!

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.

Same time, next year: meet me in Boulder this weekend for Boulder Burgundy Festival. Elaine Brown, Esther Mobley, and Carlin Karr are featured speakers.

Festival founder Brett Zimmerman presents one of the marquee dinners at last year’s Boulder Burgundy Festival at Steakhouse Number 316 in Boulder. The wines, the food, and the people at all of the festival’s events are as compelling as they are welcoming and inspiring.

I dunno, but I always feel a little guilty when I say goodbye to Tracie, the girls, and the Chihuahuas when I get on the plane for my “long weekend” of work at the Boulder Burgundy Festival each year.

I mean, it really sucks to leave your family for a three-day weekend and head to one of the most beautiful valleys in all of north American for tastings and dinners featuring some of the best and most expensive wines in the world.

It sucks even more when you consider that my gig is Italian wine. I mean, what am I thinking? Hanging out with a bunch of French wine lovers and French winemakers?

It’s a really tough job but someone has to do it. Seriously…

Please join me this weekend for the Boulder Burgundy Festival where I have been the event’s official blogger and media consultant for more than a decade (I must be doing something right if they keep inviting me back each year!).

This year, we’re looking forward to hosting Elaine Brown (whom you all already know), Esther Mobley (another wine writer celeb who needs no introduction when it comes to the wine intelligentsia of which you, reader, are undoubtedly a member), and Carlin Karr, who, beyond being one of the nicest and most brilliant people I have ever met in the wine trade, is one of the top-five wine buyers in the country today.

The only bummer is that Tracie will not be there this year. That’s because we have some big news to share soon and she needs to be here in Houston. And no, it’s not that she’s having another Parzen baby. No, no, no, it’s not that. But it’s big and it’s good (stay tuned for that).

The Paulée lunch sold out as soon as it hit the internets. But there are a few spots left for the dinners and grand tasting (Burgundy geeks and certification seekers: the Sunday walk-around is probably the best value available in the U.S. in terms of being able to taste through a wide field of Burgundy including some of the most out-of-reach stuff; just be sure to get there early!). And I ask you to keep in mind that Boulder Burgundy Festival is a non-profit whose proceeds all go to local and national charities.

I hope you will join us and I’m looking forward to tasting some exceptional wines with some exceptional people and some of the best food in the U.S. Thank you Brett and Boulder Wine Merchant for making me a part of it each year!

What’s the difference between pergola and tendone? The answer may be the key to viticulture in the age of climate change.

The notion that tendone and pergola training systems could represent one of the grand solutions for winemakers facing the wrathful challenges of climate change was first suggested to me many years ago by the writer, publisher, and in-demand vineyard manager Maurizio Gily.

The topic came up following a call he had received from a winery in Texas asking him to consult on a new vineyard planting. The ancient training technique, which can trace its origins to bronze-era trellising used by the Etruscans, could be ideal, he said, for protecting the plants and their fruit from extreme weather events including severe storms and late-spring frosts (while high temperatures are a major problem for Texas wine growers, it’s the late-spring frosts — remember the 2021 freeze? — that can cause a farmer to lose their entire crop).

But there’s a bigger element in play, I learned recently when Chiara Ciavolich, legacy grower at her family’s farm in Abruzzo, took me on a tour of her estate together with her longtime vineyard manager Guerino Pescara.

The first question they answered was what’s the difference between pergola and tendone training?

Where pergola is a patchwork of small square structures that support the vines, tendone is a continuous and seamless series of pergolas, as it were. (To better get a sense of the system, keep in mind that a tendone in Italian means big tent.)

And here’s where that difference, a seemingly small divergence but actually extremely impactful, comes into play.

Beyond protecting the vines and fruit from severe weather, the canopy formed by the tendone mitigates or facilitates solar radiation. That’s why tendone is so important: because the canopy covers the entire parcel and not just the earth where the vines have their roots.

Guerino spent the better part of an hour that day explaining to me how solar radiation, beyond being a key to photosynthesis, also determines water retention and drainage. And in years like 2022 when prolonged drought and extreme summer temperatures represented existential threats to growers, solar radiation mitigation is an increasingly important component in vineyard management.

To the layperson, the first photo above may seem like an abandoned vineyard. But professionals will discern how the vegetation between the rows and canopy vegetation create a balance in solar radiation and water retention.

The art of managing the vegetation, Guerino explained, is not only the key to making great wines (and man, are the wines of Ciavolich great!). But it also may be the key to mitigating the effects of climate change.

The wines tasted at Caivolich were among the best during my early September harvest tour of central and northern Italy.

Beyond being a keeper of one of Abruzzo’s most important flames, she is also a intellectual winemaker whose thoughtfulness and deeper sense of history and legacy are reflected in her extraordinary wines.

Her “Fosso Cancelli” line floored me with a clarity and focus of fruit that spanned the entire flight. As much as I loved the whites, including her opulent interpretation of Pecorino, it was her Montepulciano that stopped the show. The freshness, vibrant fruit, buoyancy, and nuance of this wine make it a stand-out Italian red — no matter what the appellation.

It was such a treat for me to meet Chiara and Guerino. And it didn’t take long before my conversation with Chiara veered into 20th-century and contemporary literature (my kind of winemaker!). I highly recommend her wines and if you ever get the chance to taste and interact with her, take the opportunity. I really enjoyed visiting with her and came away inspired by our chat.

I also have to give a shout-out to her village’s most popular restaurant, La Bilancia, a legendary and top wine and food destination. Those are the peppers they bring to spice up your primi. I didn’t have time for a proper meal there but I can’t wait to get back (thanks again to Aburuzzo consortium marketing director Davide Acerra for hooking everything up!).

Anxiety of influence delivers a delicious Ripasso from the most unlikely place.

According to the Wiki, the 20th-century critical theorist Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” was “based primarily on [his] belief that there is no such thing as an original poem, that every new composition is simply a misreading or misinterpretation of an earlier poem and that influence is unavoidable and inescapable; all writers inevitably, to some degree, adopt, manipulate or alter and assimilate certain aspects of the content or subject matter, literary style or form from their predecessors.”

Bloom’s “anxiety” came to mind a few weeks ago when Tracie and I opened a bottle of Gino Cuneo’s 2014 Ripasso, a wine made using partially dried Corvina, Molinara, and Rodinella grapes in the style of Valpolicella. The main technical difference between his and his Veneto counterparts’ wines is that he grows his fruit in Washington State.

But unlike Bloom, who often saw the detriment of literature owed to influence, we discovered in Gino’s wine a wonderful continuity with the wines of the “precursor,” as the famous Yale scholar might have called it.

The historic reach of influence in North American viticulture is widespread and pervasive — and sometimes even invasive.

A great example of this is the planting of Francophile “international” grape varieties in Sonoma and Napa in the era that followed the repeal of Prohibition and the end of the Second World War. It’s widely accepted today that Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon where not the ideal varieties to plant in Northern California’s arid climate where average temperatures of late summer generally and greatly exceed those in the grapes’ respective spiritual homelands, namely Burgundy and Bordeaux.

But the landed gentry of that era, as it were, saw French wines as the model — their anxiety of influence — for the wines they wanted to grow and drink. Prior to Prohibition, the previous generation of grape farmers there were Italophile and often Italian. The new California wine of the post-WWII epoch was conceived as an “ennoblement” of the region’s viticulture. (It’s important to remember that Italian immigrants were often considered second-class citizens in America at that time.)

By the time the enoblogopshere began to take shape in the 2000s, there was already a distinct new wave of wine lovers who decried “California Chardonnay” and “Napa Valley Cab” as mediocre, misguided, and ill-conceived imitations of their French models.

These and other transcultural questions of Bloomian influence crossed my mind the other night as we enjoyed Cuneo’s wine with a well-done porterhouse steak (that’s the way our girls like it; a parental-filial compromise).

The thing that struck me about it was how classic the wine showed, with notes of almond and black cherry that are typical of Valpolicella-grown Corvina. It also had the alcohol and the power that the ripasso method traditionally delivers. (It’s my impression that Cuneo makes this wine more like a lighter-style Amarone than a ripasso-method wine. Technically, a Ripasso is made by fermenting the new must on the solids of previously vinified Amarone. I believe that this wine, on the other hand, is made partially from dried grapes. Gino, if you are here, please share the vinification. Thank you!)

In my experience, Italian-inspired wines from the U.S. often lose their classic varietal traits. It’s rare that a California-grown Sangiovese or Barbera evokes aromas and flavors of the same grapes grown in their land of origin.

Tracie and I have a high bar for Italianate wine made in the U.S. But this one really thrilled our palates and commanded our attention with its pseudo-typicity and delicious flavors and food-friendliness.

Isn’t great when a bottle of wine gets you thinking thoughts like this? It seems the anxiety of influence isn’t so bad after all…

Thank you, Gino, for sharing this bottle of wine with us! We really enjoyed it!

Support my research through the Do Bianchi wine club. Thanksgiving offering now available.

Some folks will remember that I used to run a wine club in California where I would sell mixed six-packs from my warehouse in San Diego.

I am happy to report that I am launching the club again.

And you can help to support my work and research here at Do Bianchi by enjoying some great Italian wines selected by me.

If you’d like to receive information about my current holiday offering (perfect for Thanksgiving), please send me an email by clicking here (jparzen @ gee mail).

The offer is available exclusively to California residents (sorry, Texas, but our state doesn’t like wine unless it comes through the fat cat channels).

And I also have some higher end wines and extra party wines available for those who need them for entertaining this season.

The centerpiece of this month’s offering is the BES 2020 Barbera del Monferrato (above).

That wine is currently featured on one of California’s top Italian-focused wine lists.

It’s a gorgeous expression of a grape and wine region that deserve our attention — now more than ever because of the role Barbera is playing a climate changing world. It’s grown and vinified by a lovely couple who moved to the countryside in Monferrato some years ago because their special needs son needed a break from city life.

BES stands for bere e sognare (drink and dream) but it also stands for bisogni educativi speciali (special educational needs). It’s also an acronym for the couple’s last names.

This is Barbera at its finest imho, from honest growers who make the wine as purely and transparently as possible. I fell in love with it when I first tasted it a few years ago and I’m thrilled to be offering it to my friends through my wine club.

And it’s just one of the six wines in my Thanksgiving holiday six pack.

Hit me up if you need some wine! I’ll use the sales to keep my medieval wine lit research going. And you’ll get to drink some of my favorite wines.

Click here to email me and I’ll send you details. Thank you for the support and solidarity!