Groppello as pronounced by Paolo Pasini (Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project)

The latest entry in the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project

paolo pasiniReader John Roenigk of the Austin Wine Merchant writes:

Hello Jeremy,

“Groppello” might be a good one to add to your project.

Best from beautiful downtown Austin, Texas!

Here you go, John! And thanks for the suggestion!

Happy birthday, Lila Jane! We love you so much, sweet girl!

A new video starring Lila Jane and featuring the hit single “Lalala Lila Jane” by the Parzen Family Singers…

lj post 2Happy birthday, Lila Jane, sweet, sweet girl!

As I put together the photos for your birthday video, I kept thinking over and over about your special sparkle and your contagious smile.

It’s so much fun to be your dad and you have brought so much joy into our lives with your sweetness and tenderness.

I can’t wait for milkshakes today at Bernie’s Burger Bus, your favorite.

And I know your “rainbow” birthday party tomorrow is going to be a blast.

I love you, sweet, sweet girl. Happy birthday!

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Tauma, a rosé that speaks the language of Jesus (one of Italy’s most talked-about new labels)

tauma best rosato wine italyIt seems like a lifetime ago that leading Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti grabbed me by the arm at Vinitaly 2014 and whispered in my ear: “Jeremy, man, you just have to taste this wine. It’s incredible.”

The wine in question was a rosé made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and named tauma, which means twin in Aramaic, the language most likely spoken by Jesus and His disciples. It was the language spoken during his era by most Jews, who were more likely to speak Aramaic and Greek than Hebrew.

(Check out this hard-to-navigate but super cool Aramaic lexicon on the Hebrew Union College website.)

The name is owed to the fact that Abruzzese winemaker Giuliano Pettinella (a lawyer by day) sources his fruit from “twin” vineyard sites.

Ever since its debut three years ago, Tauma has been one of the most talked-about wines among Italy’s wine cognoscenti.

According to the best online description I could find (translation mine), the wine is made from fruit grown in “two vineyards that, combined, barely cover a half of hectare and make for handful of bottles (roughly 1,800).”

“One of the sites is located in the foothills of the Maiella [massif in the central Apennines] in Tocco da Casuria township (Pescara province) with 45-year-old, Abruzzese pergola-trained vines. The other is found on a hillside facing the sea in Silvi Marina (Teramo province), with 20-year-old, low cordon-trained spur-pruned vines.”

No chemicals are used in the vineyards. And Giuliano alternates each year between manure and tilled cover crops for fertilizer.

The only treatments used to combat oidium and peronospora are sulfur and copper.

No herbicides are used and grasses are allowed to grow spontaneously. He mows between the rows at the end of summer so as to facilitate green harvest and the final harvest.

The grapes from each vineyard are co-fermented. No cultured yeasts are used for fermentation, which takes place in “decades-old” barriques without temperature control.

The wine is aged first in cask, where it undergoes frequent stirring of the lees, and then in stainless steel. No additives are employed to stabilize the wine and the wine is neither clarified or filtered. Only a small amount of SO2 is added before bottling.

It’s one of my most stunning wine discoveries over the last few years and it is available for the first time in the U.S. at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I have been authoring the wine list for more than five years now.

I’m telling you folks, this is one not to miss.

Thanks for reading and thanks for digging groovy Italian wine!

“We made this monster”: reflections and notes on the Vietti sale

From the department of “Gramsci’s ashes”…

vietti baroloAbove: a large format bottle of Vietti Barolo, proudly displayed in the lobby of the hotel where Tracie P and I were staying in Alba down the road from Barolo village last week.

“We made this monster.”

Those were the words of a legacy Barolo producer last week when the subject of the Vietti sale came up in conversation at dinner.

The winemaker wasn’t deriding Vietti or its new American owner. Nor was this a Jeremiad on the high prices of land and vineyards in the appellation.

It was a simple statement of fact. The immense popularity of Barolo among collectors today, said the grape grower, has caused land prices to increase so drastically that even legacy families can no longer afford to expand their holdings.

“I can sell my vineyards,” said the vigniaolo, “but I can no longer afford to buy new vineyards.”

How not to make an analogy with the גולם (goylem) of Jewish mythology? Created to protect the Jews of Prague, the goylem was a monster who could no longer be controlled by them once the threat had been overcome.

While we were in Barolo last week for the Collisioni festival, it was only natural that everyone was talking about the sale of Vietti to an American buyer Kyle Krause (owner of Kum and Go) and its implications.

I haven’t been surprised by the reactions of my Italian counterparts and peers — writers and trade observers who lean toward traditional-style Barolo and champion its cultural signficance. As I noted in a post last week, many (and most, really) see the acquisition as a “dark day for Barolo.”

But in speaking to top growers and bottlers in situ like the one above, I was impressed by their embrace of the sale as the natural outgrowth of their appellation.

I also learned that for the most part (although not universally), they have have great respect and affection for Mr. Krause.

He and his wife have been coming to Barolo for years, they told me. And for years, he has dutifully paid visits and homage to the Barolo greats. Although some are disdainful of the sale, none had a bad word for him — not one.

Since I posted my note on the sale last week, I’ve also been struck by the reaction of many leading American wine professionals.

As one industry veteran put it, my voice is part of “a chorus of American histrionics regarding foreign investment in Vietti.”

While in Barolo, one of the most prominent Italian wine buyers in the U.S. (and a good friend) gently chastised me. What’s wrong, he asked me, with the Vietti winery using American investment to expand their vineyards and grow their business?

He’s wholly right: the families behind the Vietti brand have every right and prerogative to engage in one of the tenets of the American brand of capitalism. He is 100 percent right in this. I cannot underline that enough.

But then I think of the sale of legacy Chianti producer Ricasoli to the Seagram group in the 1970s. We all know how that ended…

Just today, my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini published a post about the day that Banfi came knocking at Fattoria dei Barbi in 1969. The Mariani brothers weren’t coming to buy but to license. And ultimately they came to buy.

“Love it or hate it… was it better for Brunello [this way]?” asks Stefano. “Who can say?” (The post is really worth checking out; Italian wine trade observers will be surprised by Stefano’s anecdote, I’m sure.)

Without a doubt, I see the logic and wisdom of capitalist spirit here, although I don’t share it.

I also see a Marxist parable in play whereby the boom becomes unsustainable by those who created “the monster.”

The Kum and Go family’s purchase in Barolo isn’t the first example of foreign investment there nor will it be the last.

One of the best expressions of Nebbiolo I tasted last week was made by a Barolo native who works for a Czech-owned winery: a historic estate that has been reinvigorated by foreign investment.

And I was told that Asian investment in Barolo is also growing.

The power and strength of the capitalist march are unstoppable. It was inevitable that Barolo, like Burgundy and Bordeaux and Brunello before it, would succumb to the capitalist model.

But there’s no question that a little piece of Barolo died last week for the sake of progress. And there’s no question — at least in my mind — that Baldo Cappellano was right when he told us: the battles you know you won’t win are the ones you need to fight the hardest for…

morra barolo license free

Italy’s never-ending viticultural wonders

enrico cauda roero fornaceTracie P and I were blown away — BLOWN AWAY — by the superb flight of wines that we tasted yesterday at the Collisioni festival’s Roero event.

That’s Enrico Cauda of Cascina Fornace, above, just one of the roughly 20 producers who showed their wines at Malabaila castle in the historic center of Canale (township). From the conventional to the elegantly macerated to the crunchy and funky, there wasn’t a bad wine in the house.

We’re about to head back to Houston today. But in coming days, I’ll have notes on Roero, Dolcetto di Dogliani, Nascetta, a new classic-style Barolo producer, and so many other incredible wines we tasted.

I’ll also share notes on what people from many different walks of (wine) life had to say about the Vietti sale (you might be surprised by what I learned).

I’ve been coming to Italy as a wine professional for more than 15 years now and even after so many visits, I’m always amazed and thrilled by the new wines I discover on each trip (the Roero event was particularly revelatory).

Thanks for being here and following along. See you on the other side!

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Beppe Severgnini on terrorism #Collisioni16 #Barolo

beppe severgniniI didn’t get to catch all of Beppe Severgnini’s talk at the Collisioni festival in Barolo, Italy yesterday.

But I did manage to break away from a busy tasting schedule for a few minutes and hear him work a spellbound standing-room-only crowd.

“If we start to close our borders and ban immigrants,” he said, “then the terrorists will have won.”

I would have liked to hear more but a flight of Ligurian wines awaited me in the Barolo castle tasting room.

About to head out for another day of tasting at the festival and will report back soonest.

In the meantime, check out this interesting column by Severgnini on historical terrorism from late last year.

Buona domenica a tutti!

Vietti and the reification of Nebbiolo: “A dark day for Barolo.”

nebbiolo harvest 2015Above: Nebbiolo grapes in Cannubi, one of Barolo’s most famous crus.

“Here in the hills, people can’t stop talking about it,” wrote high-profile Italian wine blogger and Nebbiolo observer Alessandro Morichetti in a Facebook post today.

He was referring to Monday’s news that legacy Barolo estate Vietti had been sold to American entrepreneur Kyle Krause, owner of the “Kum and Go” convenience store chain.

It’s rumored that the cost was $60 million, an astounding figure for an appellation where many still remember the dire economic challenge faced by growers in the decades that followed the Second World War. As late as the 1960s, even as Italy’s post-war “economic miracle” began to take shape, many villages in Barolo and Barbaresco still didn’t have running water, for example.

In an excellent post today for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino, contributor and Langa native Francesco Oddenino remembers a remark by “last of the Mohicans” Barolo grower and winemaker Bartolo Mascarello.

Commenting the sale of a parcel in the famed Cannubi vineyard for an astronomical and at that time unimaginable sum, Mascarello reportedly said: “From this day forward, no young person in Barolo will have the means to acquire a piece of land in Barolo and begin to make wine. This is a dark day for Barolo.”

Yes, over the last decade or so, vineyard rows and even entire vineyard sites have changed hands for what some consider obscene amounts of money in Barolo and Barbaresco. But “until now,” writes Oddenino, “no other leading historic estate has ever been sold: The prices of land have reached levels never before seen but the best vineyards have always been purchased by historic wineries owned by Piedmontese producers.”

“This is perhaps another dark day for Barolo and the Langhe [hills],” he opines.

Krause has been trying to buy a historic estate in Langhe for some time now.

More than a year ago, I wrote this piece for WineSearcher about Roberto Conterno’s move to snatch up a historic Barolo farm that Krause desperately wanted to acquire.

He used “pre-emption rights,” otherwise known as “first right of refusal,” to block the American.

Tracie P and I will be heading to Barolo tomorrow for the Collisioni music and wine festival. I’m sure that there will be much talk of the sale and what it means for the future of the appellation.

I’ll report back all the news that’s fit to blog about.

And in meantime, I’ll try to figure out how to explain to Italians what “Kum and Go” means and its cultural (and pop-cultural) implications.

Zago seafood and wine bar in Udine province: RUN don’t walk

zago best seafood restaurant friuliIt felt like I was back in my university days in Italy except that the food and wine were a lot better.

From discussions of Noam Chomsky and Pier Paolo Pasolini to Balkan rock songs strummed late into the night on a nylon-string guitar, I had the most amazing time last night in Udine with my friend of many years Marco Fantinel, his SO Sonia, and their friends.

After I rolled into the Spilimbergo area late yesterday afternoon, Marco and I tasted at the winery (Ribolla Gialla and Refosco were highlights among many other great wines).

We then headed out to meet the gang at the newish restaurant Zago by Grado chef Luigi Zago in Laipacco hamlet (Tricesimo township, Udine province). Fantastic seafood destination and wine bar. I highly recommend it. We did fritto misto, crudo (above), and whole fish (turbot).

Marco, what a great night! Thank you, dude. It was awesome to connect like that. Sonia has the most amazing voice!

Posting in a hurry this morning from a very muggy Udine as I head out to my next appointment. Thanks for being here. More to come…

Wild blackberries, Milanese cutlet sandwiches, and a hike in Franciacorta’s peatlands make for a fine Sunday afternoon

wild blackberriesI photographed these wild blackberries as I hiked through Franciacorta’s peatlands this afternoon after lunch.

What an amazing, gorgeous visit! Super hot today but the marshland trails were wonderful.

peat franciacorta italyWith highs in the 90s, today probably wasn’t the best day for hiking in a swamp. A beautiful swamp. But a swamp nonetheless.

But on a cooler day, I can’t recommend it enough. Here’s a post on my visit and hike that I wrote for the Franciacorta Real Story blog when I got back to my hotel in Brescia. (Yes, the Franciacorta consortium actually pays me to do this stuff; sweet gig!)

It’s really worth checking out… and really interesting to learn that peat was once a major source of fuel here (in the 1700s).

cotoletta milanese recipeOf course, no visit to Franciacorta was going to happen without a stop at Vittorio Fusari’s Dispensa Pani e Vini, one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

An Italian artisanal beer and Vittorio’s cotoletta alla milanese sandwich, served with a schmear of puréed potatoes… my goodness, that was awesome.

Some say that the restaurant just isn’t the same since Vittorio went off to cook in Milan. But I say hogwash.

A perfect Sunday afternoon in Franciacorta, if you ask me.

Check out the peatlands here. Really cool stuff.

Buona domenica a tutti!