Maule, one of my loci amoeni

maule biancara vineyards wineryNot much time to post this morning as I try to catch up with work before heading out for the last day of our Design and Wine Tour.

But I just had to share this photo I snapped yesterday in the vineyards at the Maule winery in Montebello Vicentino, one of my loci amoeni and one of my favorite wines to drink anywhere.

Thanks again to the Maule family for such a great evening.

Looking forward to posting notes from my trip as soon as the dust settles.

URGENT U.S. travelers alert: Italy now requires six months validity of passports

italy us passport requirements changes monthsIt’s with no small amount of urgency that I’m posting today because it was only yesterday that I learned that Italy now requires that U.S. passports be valid for at least six months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area.

This came to my attention because a person who was supposed to join our current Design and Wine Italy Tour was not allowed to board her flight on Friday of last week because her passport would have expired before the required six months from the date of her departure.

Until recently, only three months were required for Italy. I know this because I renewed my passport earlier this year and had been reading up on travel requirements.
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Dispatch from Fantasy Island and my favorite cicchetteria in Venice

lino fritto best cicchetti tapas veniceAbove: dinner last night at Lino Fritto, my new favorite cicchetteria in Venice.

How did I get here?

I awoke this morning at a 5-star resort/spa/hotel on the Island of the Roses, a 20-minute boat ride from Venice.

Am I a character in Fellini’s “8 1/2”? Or am I simply a wine blogger who happened to be in the right place at the right time?

I’m still not sure… What I do know is that the first three days of my friend Adam Japko’s Design and Wine Tour 2016 have been as exhilarating as they have been aesthetically and sensorially fulfilling.

Dinner downstairs at Caffè Quadri. A wonderfully catered reception at the Palazzo Rocca on the Grand Canal. A Sunday morning in one of the most beautiful villages in Italy (and one of my favorites). Lunch at the marvelous Osteria alla Chiesa with one of my favorite winemakers and clients Bele Casel.

And dulcis in fundo, a spectacular cicchettata (above) last night at Lino Fritto at the Venice fish market with my friend Wayne Young pouring wine for our tour group.

wayne young bastianichAbove: and in the midst of it all, I got to have “do bianchi,” two white wines, with my good friend Wayne Young who works with Joe Bastianich here in Italy.

Time away from my family is so rough on me. Tracie P and the girls are always on my mind and in my thoughts and heart.

But I’ve found immense humanity and joy over the last few days in the lovely people with whom I’ve been traveling and the friends — new and old — who have helped me organize our visits so far.

Massimiliano, Marco, Federica, Matteo, Luca, Paola, Bojana, Marisa, Francesco B., Wayne, Renato, Giovanni… I am so blessed by your friendship. Thank you from the bottom of my hear for all your help and solidarity.

The trip has only just begun and there will be so many more people to thank and so many more blog posts to write before we are done.

That’s all I have time to post this morning as I head out for another day of tasting etc.

Please have a look at this insightful post on the nature and direction of Italian wine today by Alfonso. I know that you will find it as compelling as I did.

And if your Italian is up to it, please see this post by Jacopo Cossater (Intravino) on the controversial sale of the Birra del Borgo brewery to the Anheuser-Busch InBev group.

Now more than ever do the notions of “authenticity,” “natural,” and “artisanal” play a role in cultural hegemony and now more than ever do we need to reflect on their epistemological implications.

We open in Venice, we next play Verona…

jw marriott hotel veniceTomorrow is the first day of my friend Adam Japko’s Design and Wine Tour Italy 2016.

And we literally open in Venice and next play Verona. Beginning tomorrow I’ll be pouring and speaking about wines and wineries I’ve selected for the trip, first here in Venice and then next week in Verona province and Verona proper.

Until our band of players heads to Valpolicella on Tuesday, our group (me included) will be staying at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa on the Isola delle Rose (Island of the Roses) in the Venetian lagoon. Not too shabby, folks!

Stay tuned and if you’re so inclined, please check out my Instagram for live posts on what and where we’re eating and drinking.

Italian growers spared frost as freezing temperatures arrive in France

champagne frost april 2016Marco Tinello, my friend and one of the Veneto’s top sommeliers, has been posting stirring images from France this week on his Facebook.

The photo above is from this morning in Champagne (Bar Sur Aube).

The stunning image below was posted yesterday from Chablis, where growers use fires in the vineyard to prevent frost on the vines.

Temperatures have dipped below freezing in France this week.

Yesterday, Champagne house Louis Roederer posted the following note on its Twitter: “Hard to estimate how much frost damages we had last night but seems limited… One more cold night ahead!”

Using the website, I can see that temperatures also fell in Italy this week.

According to my search results, weather along the Adriatic coast dropped into the low 40s (F.) but not below freezing.

And my client in Montalcino, Stefano Cinelli Colombini, winemaker at Fattoria dei Barbi, reports today that he had to get “a couple of jackets out of mothballs” but there has been no frost or snowfall. Just rain, he wrote this morning.

Especially when it occurs after budding, spring frost can be extremely harmful to vines. Even when the plants are spared immediate damage, it can severely slow the vegetative cycle, which can cause problems down the road. I’ll keep following the story and will post news as it comes in.

Thanks to Marco for the dispatches from France, to Stefano for his update, and to the Italian wine blog Intravino for bringing the Roederer tweet to my attention.

chablis frostIn other news…

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it: I’ll be heading to Bush airport this afternoon to fly to the Veneto where I will be leading a series of tastings and winery visits next week for my good friend Adam Japko’s “Design and Wine Tour.”

I have a lot of great meals and wines in my near future but man, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Tracie P, Georgia P, and Lila Jane this afternoon. I miss them already.

Wish me luck and wish me speed. I’ll see you on the other side…

mommy lila

Collio wines blew me away at Vinitaly… welcome to #WhiteWineNation

stefano cosmaAbove: wine writer Stefano Cosma, editor at Vini Buoni d’Italia (center) with Friuli president Debora Serracchiani (right) and Collio consortium president Roberto Princic (left).

What better way to start off a talk about the wines of Collio than an anecdote about a bat mitzvah?

One of the highlights of my Vinitaly this year — the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona — was a panel and tasting of Collio wines organized by Vinarius, the Italian association of wine shop owners.

Wine writer Stefano Cosma, Vinarius president Andrea Terraneo, and I each shared our thoughts on a superb flight of wines together with a lively group of wine writers and a retailer or two. And Collio consortium president Roberto Princic and Friuli president Debora Serracchiani (!!! she is super cool!) presented the panel.

For my talk, I remembered fondly my duties as sommelier at my niece’s bat mitzvah reception last summer in La Jolla, California (at Temple Beth El). It was a major wedding-sized affair, with a pizza truck and motivators, a disco ball, and nearly 200 guests.

I had selected a Collio white blend and Nebbiolo from Carema for the red. All things considered, I was sure that the southern California crowd would lean red. My experience in such matters has always been that the average bar or bat mitzvah-goer prefers red over white. But before I could say mazel tov, the caterer told me that she was concerned we were running out of Collio.

According to the latest survey of consumer trends, Chardonnay remains the favorite variety among average consumers. And even though Americans still like “fruity red wine” more than any other, more and more white wine drinkers are starting to emerge (at least anecdotally in my experience).

collio friuli wines whiteI believe it’s part of a trend that’s owed to the fact that wine awareness has been growing and expanding rapidly in this country for nearly a decade. And we are moving away from the market dominance of red wine.

The focus of our tasting was Ribolla (fresh, youthful Ribolla, not macerated Ribolla), Malvasia, Friulano, and classic white blends.

And while the monovarietal wines were impressive, it was the flight of three 2013 blends that really blew me away. The wines were by three producers I’d never tasted before: Renato Keber, Bracco, and Pascolo.

All were excellent but the Pascolo in particular really wowed me with its freshness, transparency of fruit, and nuanced depth.

One high-profile wine retailer in attendance called the flight a “cannonball.” And he was right on. shows a small amount of R. Keber in New York and a few skus from Bracco in Massachusetts. Nothing comes up for Pascolo.

There is so much fantastic yet undiscovered wine being made in Friuli in general right now. And for a nation ever more thirsty for well-priced nuanced white wine, it would seem that importers have nothing to lose when it comes to sourcing an untapped lake of great whites.

I’ll actually be in Friuli weekend after next and Friulian wines are going to be the focus of a new project that I’ll reveal shortly.

In the meantime, U.S. wine importers: please bring us some more of this groovy stuff!

And thanks to Vinarius and the Collio consortium for including me on the panel. It was a lot of fun and I was thrilled to taste some great and new-to-me wines. Stay tuned for more reports from my tastings at the fairs…

Boston Globe, Tony’s amazing Passover brisket, and dinosaurs for grandma

jewish brisket recipeHow is your Passover? Today, on the third day of the Passover, we ask not how was your Passover? but how is your Passover?

We don’t Kosher our house for Passover (and we don’t keep Kosher in general) but we do retell the story of the Exodus through our Passover seder on the first night of the festival.

This year, we were joined by my in-laws, Rev. and Mrs. Branch, and my mom, Judy (below).

For our haggadah (the book that you read during the seder), we used this one from Chabad. It was excellent. And I really enjoyed leading the seder for our family.

And our seder meal was extra special thanks to my friend and client, Tony Vallone.

Tony caters some of his clients’ Passover meals and being the mensch that he is, he always sends me home on Erev Pesach (the first night of the Passover) with a complete meal that includes haroset (for the seder plate), homemade gelfite fish (the best!), and Jewish-style braised brisket and vegetables (above).

Not only is Tony’s classic brisket delicious but it also evokes a memory of Jewish cookery in my grandparents day. Today, brisket is an expensive cut of meat. In the era of the great twentieth-century migrations (like that of my great grandparents who came from Russia and Poland in the first decade of the last century), it was an affordable cut that would be patiently transformed into cultural icons like pastrami, corned beef, and even Texas bbq (thanks to the German immigrants who landed in central Texas).

It would be enough to be surrounded by my loving family on Erev Pesach! Dayenu!

But Tony’s Passover meal made our seder extra special this year.

In other news…

Also making this Pesach a sweet one, Boston Globe wine critic Ellen Bhang generously devoted a column to me and my Franciacorta project in Sunday’s paper.

Working with the Franciacorta consortium has been one of the most rewarding campaigns of my career. I love the wines and believe they deserve the attention of the fine community.

Ellen’s article even made my Jewish mother proud!

That’s my mom Judy (below, left) with Tracie P, Georgia P (left) and Lila Jane. The girls had a blast taking her to see the butterflies and dinosaurs this weekend at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

All in all, it will be a wonderful Passover that we’ll never forget.

Had G-d not liberated our people from bondage, had He not given us the Torah, had he not delivered us to Jerusalem… none of us would be here today to enjoy more blessings that I can count. Lest we ever forget…

judy parzen judith tad micah

All safe in Houston and thanks to everyone who came out for Franciacorta yesterday in NYC

new york wine tasting singlesWriting in a hurry this morning before heading out for another long day of tastings and business meetings but just wanted to give a shout-out and send thanks to everyone who came out for my Franciacorta seminar and tasting yesterday.

Our morning event (above) was packed with some of the best and brightest from the NYC Italian wine scene. And we poured 24 skus from 20 different wineries at the afternoon gathering.

I can’t thank you all enough for coming out to support Franciacorta and me.

Special thanks also to Emily Corso from L’Apicio who did a fantastic job of hosting. Super nice, super pro.

Thanks also to everyone who reached out to check in with the Parzen family after yesterday’s extreme flooding in Houston.

Luckily, the house we rent in southwest Houston is outside the city’s flood plain.

Our thoughts and prayers to out to our neighbors who weren’t so fortunate, including the folks who live on the bayou just north of us. They’re still reeling from the flooding last May.

I’m happy to report that Tracie P and the girls spent the day at home and then went out puddle jumping once the storm passed.

Di fretta…

houston flooding april

Tromboncino squash purée with cuttle fish was fantastic and so was the ViniVeri fair

Please come taste Franciacorta with with me on Monday, April 18 at L’Apicio in lower Manhattan (4-6 p.m.). All are welcome and RSVP not required. Click here for details.

pascaline lepeltierThe first time, you go for the wines. But then you keep going back for the people.

One of the most fun things about the ViniVeri fair is all the super cool people you connect with there — from Italy and America and Georgia and France…

I’ve been giving the ViniVeri consortium a hand raising awareness of their cause this year. Today, I posted my schmooze-fest photos on its Facebook. Check it out here.

flavio costa chefAnother one of the highlights from my trip this week was dinner with a group of American colleagues at my client Tenuta Carretta’s new restaurant 21.9.

Chef Flavio Costa from Liguria has already earned his first Michelin star cooking on the coast. Now, he’s going for gold in Piedmont wine country.

I was blown away by his cooking. That’s his tromboncino squash purée with cuttlefish in their ink and candied lemon zest, one of his signature dishes. Friggin’ brilliant!

Click here for some more of my favorite dishes from the evening.

I had never had “semi dry” salt cod (also know as the “3/4 cure”). Flavio served it with wild Piedmontese salsify. That was also amazing.

Posting in a hurry this morning as I battle jetlag catch up on work. Thanks for being here, everyone. Buon weekend and hope to see you on Monday in NYC!

New Yorkers, I need you!

New Yorkers, I need you (to taste Franciacorta with me)!

Still catching my breath after a whirlwind trip to Italy for the fairs this and last week. And in just a few days, I’ll be heading to NYC for this tasting. Any and all are welcome and please share the invite with whomever you like. Any way you can support the event would be greatly appreciated. I hope to see you on Monday in NYC!

new york city skylineNew Yorkers, please join me and Franciacorta consortium Vice President Silvano Brescianini on Monday, April 18 at L’Apicio in lower Manhattan for an exclusive tasting of Franciacorta wines. All are welcome to join. And please feel free to share this invite with whomever you like.

I regret that our morning seminar and guided tasting is completely booked. But if you’d like to get in on that, please shoot me an email at and I’ll try to fit you in (no promises).

Thank you and see you next week in New York!

Tasting: “Franciacorta, a walk-around tasting
with Silvano Brescianini, Franciacorta Consortium VP”

Monday, April 18, 2016
4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
13 East 1st St.
(212) 533-7400

franciacorta tasting new york