Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California: prizes to be announced next week

As strange as it seems, it was on a chilly November night in Piedmont — as voting in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was already well under way — that Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio first suggested we create a Slow Wine guide to the wine of California. We sipped sustainably farmed Timorasso, dipped organic torilla chips into organic salsa (just to add a layer of surreality), and by the time we said goodbye, we knew we were on the verge of having a new U.S. president and a new vade-mecum to California viticulture.

That’s San Diego winegrower Chris Broomell, above, in June of this year. Together with his wife Alysha Stehly, also a winemaker, he produces some of the most compelling wines that I’ve tasted in 2017. Not just delicious but also thrilling (at least to my palate) for the new direction that he’s driving grape farming and vinification practices in an often overlooked and undervalued American Viticultural Area, San Pasqual Valley.

Next week, Giancarlo (our editor-in-chief) and I will begin posting the winery and wine prizes, winery profiles, and tasting notes on a new blog we are launching for the guide, which will be released as print media early next year. We’ll also be posting about our methodology, the rationale behind the guide and the prizes, and the overarching ethos of Slow Food and Slow Wine and why we felt the time was right for a Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive of this new adventure and challenge. And special thanks to my daughters and wife Tracie who have seen a little less of me in recent weeks as I’ve been holed up in my office editing, writing, editing, writing, editing, and writing and editing some more.

It’s a very exciting project and I can’t wait to begin sharing it with you next week. Stay tuned!

Want to help Houston restaurant workers displaced by Harvey? Please come and see us! (Thank you Michael Madrigale and Planet Bordeaux.)

“Everyone’s been affected by the hurricane… everyone,” said Master Sommelier Guy Stout, a wine educator for Southern Glazer’s, when I saw him last night at a Bordeaux event at LeNôtre Culinary Institute in Houston’s Northline neighborhood.

After I attended the Bordeaux tasting, which included a guided tasting with celebrity sommelier Michale Madrigale from New York (below), I spent yesterday evening bouncing around wine bars in my adoptive city, talking to sommeliers about the status of the Houston wine community.

That’s the sign outside Underbelly (above) in our Montrose neighborhood, one of Houston’s most popular restaurants and wine destinations and a regular draw for out-of-town guests. Its owners have partnered with a local wine collector to present Wine Above Water, a wine-focused benefit for Houston-area wine trade members who have been displaced or otherwise affected by Harvey. As Guy rightly pointed out, we’ve all been affected — in one way or another.

Please read about the event and click through to the organizers’ website here (my post today for the Houston Press).

“No hesitation at all,” said Michael when I asked him if he had any reluctance in coming to our city so soon after the storm. “I was just glad when I found out we could get in.”

That’s Michael (above, left) with leading Houston sommeliers (from left) Sean Beck, Jack Mason, and Christian Varas.

Colleagues and peers from across the world have been writing me asking me how they can help with recovery efforts. Every dollar donated counts, I tell them, and donating to Wine Above Water will directly aid wine professionals who are facing mounting challenges as the restaurant industry and its patrons get back online.

But more than anything else, we need you to come here and see (and share the news) that we are open for business. Nearly everyone I talked to last night told me that their wine bars and wine-focused restaurants were up and running the day after the hurricane. In some cases, they unshuttered while the storm was still dropping up to 50 inches of rain across the greater Houston metro area.

My recommended foundations for donating are the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)
and the Houston Food Bank.

Please add Wine Above Water to that list.

But if you really want to help our community — and not just the wine and food community — please come here and spend money in our restaurants and shops. Please post a photo from Houston on your social media to let the world know that we are back on our feet. Come shake someone’s hand and share a glass of wine with one of the many displaced wine and restaurant professionals who are struggling to get by as our city rebuilds.

Thank you, Planet Bordeaux (organizer of last night’s event at LeNôtre), and thank you Michael Madrigale for not by-passing our city. That’s the type of spirit that will make #HoustonStrong even stronger.

Please check out my Houston Press post on Wine Above Water here.

From Puglia to Burgundy to Piedmont: taste with me in October in Texas, Colorado, and California

Above: I will be presenting winemaker Cesare Barbero of Pertinace (Barbaresco) and a vertical of his wines October 18 at Rossoblu in Los Angeles where I author the wine list. It’s just one of the events where I’ll be pouring and presenting this fall.

Please join me for one of the many events where I’ll be presenting, pouring, or blogging next month in Texas, Colorado, and California.

I’m particularly excited about my event with my friend and client Paolo Cantele in Houston at Mascalzone (Oct. 11) where I’m now writing my first wine list in Texas.

Another highlight will be the vertical tasting of one of my favorite Barbaresco producers Pertinace at Rossoblu (Oct. 18), where I’ve been having so much with the list, which we launched in the spring.

And of course, the Boulder Burgundy Festival (Oct. 13-15), where I’ve served as the official blogger for the last three years, is always an unforgettable experience. This year, we’ll be joined by Eric Asimov and Raj Parr.

Thanks for your support… hoping to see (and taste with) you next month!

Wednesday, October 11
7:00 p.m.

featuring Paolo Cantele
and 3 classic Italian dishes
paired with Cantele wines

$50 per person
12126 Westheimer Rd.
Houston TX 77077
Google map
CALL (832) 328-5151 TO RESERVE.

Thursday, October 12
7:00 p.m.

family-style dinner
featuring Paolo Cantele
and Cantele family wines

price TBD
5924 Convair Dr.
Fort Worth TX 76109
Google map
CALL (817) 349-0484 TO RESERVE.

Fri.-Sun., October 13-15

with keynote speaker Eric Asimov
and sommelier and winemaker Raj Parr

Boulder CO

SOTTO (Los Angeles)
Tuesday, October 17
7:00 p.m.

“Native Sons of Puglia”
dinner featuring Paolo Cantele,
Cantele family wines
& artisanal pastas by Pugliese
pasta-maker Francesco Allegro

$90 per person
9575 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90035
Google map
CALL (310) 277-0210 TO RESERVE.

ROSSOBLU (Los Angeles)
Wednesday, October 18
7:00 p.m.

Pertinace Barbaresco vertical
dinner with Cesare Barbero

$350 per person
1124 San Julian St.
Los Angeles CA 90015
Google map
CALL (213) 749-1099 TO RESERVE.

Kobrand, shame on you for by-passing Houston!

Above: the scene yesterday at the Houston Zoo, where my two daughters — ages 4 and 5 — especially enjoyed the elephants, lemurs, and cotton candy. We were lucky to find a parking place!

On Thursday, the following email found its way to my inbox:

For reasons they decided not to reveal (other than “in the wake of Hurricane Harvey”… what a tone-deaf word choice!), fine wine importer Kobrand’s powers-that-be have decided at the last minute to change the location of their touring Italian tasting, scheduled for Tuesday, September 19, from Houston to Ft. Worth.

Honestly, I had been looking forward to the tasting and looking forward to writing about it on my blog and the Houston Press food and wine blog. But thanks to the “wake of Hurricane Harvey” (I still can’t get over how insensitively their marketing department’s email was worded), it will be a missed opportunity for all concerned.

Here’s an update on the Houston wine community “in the wake of Hurricane Harvey”:

– both of my favorite wine bars in Houston were open the day after the storm;
– both of my favorite wine shops were open the day after the storm;
– the Houston-area Italian restaurant where I write the wine list was closed for only one day during the storm;
– every restaurateur member of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce was open by the last day of the storm, except for one, which opened the next day.

Although the first day of school had been postponed for two weeks, my daughter started kindergarten this morning. Yesterday, I took my daughters to the zoo and we were lucky to find a parking place (that’s how crowded it was).

The USPS delivered mail to our house the day after the storm.

City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department picked up our trash and recycling two days after the storm (our regular day for pick-up; there was no disruption in service).

Houston’s airports reopened the day after the storm. I flew to California and back for work last week, with no disruption or delay.

Kobrand, I hope you “Have a wonderful day!” in Ft. Worth. (You can tell that Kobrand managers have a truly top-notch marketing machine working for them, all the way down to the authors of their heartless copy).

Houston is by no means fully recovered. It will take years, some say up to 10, to get the fourth-largest city in America back to its pre-Harvey bustle.

But I can assure you that the wine and restaurant community has rebounded swiftly and seamlessly.

Just think of all the meals that the winemakers and brand ambassadors would have enjoyed in Houston-area fine dining destinations. Just think of the tabs they would have paid and the tips they would have left. But, no, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, all of that support will go to Ft. Worth, where they surely need it most.

Have a wonderful day, Kobrand! Don’t worry about us down here in Houston. We’re doing just fine.

The strangest vintage on record? Harvest 2017 is full of surprises (and it’s only just begun)

I just had to share the following post by my client Stefano Cinelli Colombini owner and winemaker at Fattoria dei Barbi, which includes an estate in Maremma (I translated it yesterday for the winery’s blog).

    The 2017 harvest at Fattoria dei Barbi in Scansano: In the three glasses in the photo above from left, you can see Merlot (1), Ciliegiolo and Alicante (2), and Cabernet (3). The berries have crunchy brown seeds, wild color, and high levels of polyphenols.
    Notice anything strange?
    Nothing at all, except… The grapes in the first two glasses were picked 20 days earlier than usual and the grapes in the last glass were picked 40 days earlier.
    How can the grapes be so ripe?
    Beats me. But they are totally ripe.
    I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
    But the flavors are great and there is no trace of bell pepper or jam.
    This harvest will make for excellent wines even though, theoretically, none of this should be possible.
    Everything about this year is strange. The woods seem like they’re dying but the vines continue to produce vegetation.

Click here for the complete post, including more observations on the changing climatic conditions in Italy and Stefano’s concerns.

His thoughts were echoed by winemaker Marilena Barbera, who commented (on Stefano’s Facebook version of the post): “I really don’t understand this vintage. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure it out.”

Across the internets, I’m seeing Italian winemakers scratching their heads as they try to wrap their minds around the 2017 harvest and the 2017 vegetative cycle in general. There have been so many “extreme weather events” this year: unusually warm temperatures in late winter, late spring frosts, intense summer heatwave…

When a grape grower is picking his Cabernet 40 days earlier than usual (and the grapes are excellent quality, which is nothing to complain about), there’s something really strange going on. But, then again, nothing about 2017 has seemed normal…

Italy’s harvest 2017 has begun, for better or for worse…

From Puglia to Friuli to Piedmont to Tuscany and beyond… many of my friends have begun sending me photos of the grapes they are harvesting.

Those are Chardonnay grapes in Franciacorta (Lombardy) harvested this week at the Vezzoli winery.

The 2017 is a vintage that will be remembered — without a doubt — as an extremely challenging one.

Warm temperatures came early in February and March, causing unusually early budding. Then in April, over the course of one week, two frosts struck northern and central Italy, capriciously devastating some growers and miraculously sparing others.

Summer rainfall helped some farmers but disadvantaged others when precipitation came in the form of “extreme weather events,” as we have come to call them in the era of climate change.

And who could avoid news this summer of the heat wave that affected European citizens of all stripes and further accelerated a vegetative cycle (that was already ahead of schedule thanks to the early budding in the late winter)?

From what I can gauge (between images that reach my inbox and photos I see on social media), most white growers are well underway with their picking. And many are resigned to lower yields this year.

It’s still too early to predict what will happen over the next few weeks for the red varieties. I’ll be following along…

Thank you, Solouva (my close friends and clients), for the image!

Wine culture takes Middle America by storm…

Above: the mélange of Venetian glass at Brandani’s in Missouri City was as brackish as it was playful and delightful. I loved it and I loved the restaurant.

I have to be totally and brutally honest.

When my editor at the Houston Press asked me to see if I could find any undiscovered wine country in Houston’s suburbs, I headed out to Middle America with the same preconceived notions that any average self-respecting American wine pro would harbor: there is no wine culture or true fine wine life outside our country’s major urban commercial centers.

But what I found was a vibrant, however unnoticed, community of people who love good wine and food, who appreciate good wine service, and who are looking to expand their wine knowledge and experience by adventuring beyond the stereotypes and common places of American wine enthusiasms.

Above: owner and wine director Kevin Rios of Veritas Steak and Seafood told me that his interest is turning from “big, bold” California to Italian and Spanish. Music to my ears!

On my last visit, at a small unassuming wine bar, Off the Vine Bistro, in a strip mall in Missouri City, Texas last night, I was blown away by wine director Manish Asthana’s selection of white wines, including a super groovy natural Arneis.

That’s Manish (below, right) with his wife Namita, who runs the “farm-to-table” menu. He’s an oil-and-gas dude and they’ve lived and raised their children in this southwest suburb of Houston for 22 years.

He told me that of all the places they’ve lived over their lifetime (mostly in Europe but also in Asia and their native India), they decided to make their home in the Houston area because they really loved it here.

There may be hope for (wine) America yet!

Click here for my post today for the Houston Press.

Wine trade in particular might be surprised by how ambitious some of these places are despite their location far beyond Houston’s inner urban loop.

Barcelona, thoughts and prayers for our sisters and brothers

It seemed that even before the news about the Barcelona tragedy broke in the U.S. yesterday, I began seeing a stream of “marked safe” posts on Facebook. There are so many of my friends who live or are vacationing in Spain this summer: social media remind us how easily and senselessly terrorism can affect people we care about, even when they are far away. And they remind us that we are all connected — no matter where we live or travel, no matter the color of our skin or our religion — by our shared humanity.

When one of my close friends from high school (she’s vacationing there) and the brother of one of my best friends (he’s a genetic scientist there) marked themselves safe, sweet tears of relief were made all the more salty by those that fell in the anguish of a world wayworn with anxiety.

Today, the Parzen family’s thoughts and prayer go out to our sisters and brothers in Barcelona.

Roya and Tyler, I thank G-d you are safe…

Image via Wikipedia.

Mazel tov, Andres Blanco! The new “Best Sommelier in Texas”!

Above: Andres Blanco (center) revels in his new title as the “best sommelier in Texas” after winning the coveted Texsom Best Sommelier competition (photo by my bandmate and food editor for the Houston Press Gwendolyn Knapp).

The wine business has never been more competitive in Texas and the title of “best sommelier” in the state couldn’t have gone to a better man than Andres Blanco, general manager and floor sommelier at one of my favorite Houston restaurants, Caracol. (Today, the event is called the Texsom Best Sommelier competition but until two years ago, it was known as the “Best Sommelier in Texas” competition; it now includes states contiguous to Texas.)

When I interviewed Andres yesterday by phone (for my write-up for the Houston Press today), he mentioned that he is the first Mexican-born candidate to win the competition.

That says a lot about the ever evolving wine and restaurant scene in this rapidly expanding urban landscape, the fastest growing and most diverse city in the U.S. today. (Don’t believe me? Just ask the Los Angeles Times).

Mazel tov, Andres! The award and title couldn’t have gone to a more talented Houstonian.

Please click here for my post and interview with Andres for Houston Press.

Andres’ win — the second year in a row that the title has gone to a Houstonian — and our chat were bright spots in an otherwise on-edge, weepy day for us here at the Parzen household. In the light of the other events that took place over the weekend and Donald Trump’s embrace of the white supremacist and anti-Semitic movements in our country, it’s been pretty tough to get back to “business as usual.”

For all of you who voted for and continue to support Donald Trump: was the “disruption,” as you like to call it, worth it? The stock market is soaring and you foresee lower taxes and fewer government regulations impeding you from doing business. That’s good for you. And to that I say: fair enough (however much I disagree with Trump’s attitudes and policies).

But was it worth these last six months of chaotic, unmoored governance, and the lack of leadership in the face of racism and anti-Semitism? Last week he promised “fire and fury” in Asia and this week he’s saying that Nazi flags and anti-Semitic epithets are okay when people are “defending their heritage.” Even if you promised us all the money in the world, it wouldn’t be okay at our house… It will never be okay at our house… ever… For us to teach our children otherwise would be wholly and absolutely immoral.

“Jew will not replace us”: looking to Dante for the origin of anti-Semitic hate speech

Like 65,844,954 of my fellow Americans, I was sickened and horrified by the citronella torch-bearing white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville this weekend waving Nazi and Confederate flags and chanting — among other despicable hate speech — “Jew will not replace us.”

I had never heard the expression before. And so I turned to the internets where a calibrated Google search revealed that it seems not to have appeared in mainstream media before Saturday of last week.

By now most Americans — regardless of their political, ideological, and spiritual leanings — are aware that Jews have been historically targeted by European and American white supremacists. In the minds of certain racists, Jews have corrupted the purity of European and Anglo blood and intellectual thought over the centuries.

In 1938, after Mussolini and Italy’s fascist régime adopted Hitler’s race laws, the Italian government began to publish La difesa della razza (In defense of [our] race), a journal intended to bolster the standing of the Aryan race (to which the Italian supposedly belonged in Hitler’s Europe).

On the cover of each issue, the editors transcribed a quote from Dante’s Comedy, lines 80-81 from the fifth canto of the Paradiso, where Beatrice (Dante’s spiritual guide) encourages the peoples of Europe:

uomini siate, e non pecore matte,
sì che ‘l giudeo di voi tra voi non rida

be men, not maddened sheep, lest the Jew
there in your midst make mock of you

Not surprisingly, the lines were taken out of context. And it’s worth reading Beatrice’s entire exhortation, which she delivers as she guides the pilgrim Dante to spiritual redemption.

Be more grave, Christians, in your endeavors.
Do not resemble feathers in the wind, nor think
all waters have the power to wash you clean.

You have the Testaments, both New and Old,
and the shepherd of the Church to guide you.
Let these suffice for your salvation.

If wicked greed should call you elsewhere,
be men, not maddened sheep, lest the Jew
there in your midst make mock of you.

Be not like the lamb that leaves
its mother’s milk and, silly and wanton,
pretends to battle with itself in play.

Just as I [Dante] am writing, thus did Beatrice speak.

For Dante, the demise of European culture was owed to Christians’ abandonment of the Word of G-d. He saw the growing secular influence of the Holy Roman Empire — as opposed the Church — as the greatest threat to human salvation.

When read in context, Dante’s reference to the Jews should be interpreted as don’t allow the spiritually anchored among you to deride you for your spiritual ambivalence.

Unfortunately (for them), the editors of La difesa della razza weren’t the greatest Dante scholars. Had they read the text they were quoting more carefully, they would have realized that, in fact, Dante was encouraging his readers to turn to G-d for guidance in times of moral and ethical crises. Don’t mindlessly follow G-dless ideology. Don’t be small-brained sheep who lack the moral guide that G-d gave us with his Word — his Testaments, New and Old. Let Christ be your shepherd, he tells his Christian readers.

Whether or not you voted for Donald Trump, whether or not you call yourself a Christian or a Jew, it’s time for all Americans to condemn the Nazi and Confederate symbols and hate speech employed by the white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend.

There are too many among us — Christians and Jews — who have tolerated the rise of white nationalism in this country with the excuse that it was a necessary evil in achieving Donald Trump’s victory. No matter where you stand on the issue, white nationalism played a significant role in his election — there’s no denying that, folks.

Someday, when my semi-Semitic children are old enough to read the newspaper and their white mother and their Jewish father have to explain to them that there are people in our country who want to expel Jews from their communities, I will point to the Word:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien… you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19).

I never thought in a million years that my children would have to experience anti-Semitism (as I did growing up). But it’s come to this. And this can and will not stand in the Parzen family.

Image via Alessandro Robecchi’s blog. Translation via the Princeton Dante Project.