2 NEW Christmas Songs from Parzen Family Singers…

Beware of darkness but fear not the night
There will be sunshine by Christmas light…

christmas-album-cover-2016-betaThere’s a strict rule in the Parzen family home: thou shall not listen to Christmas music (even though you love it so much) until the week of Thanksgiving (and not after January 1).

After all, part of what makes Christmas music so special is that you only get to hear it six weeks of the entire year.

Here are two new Christmas songs from Parzen Family Singers. I hope you enjoy them.

You can download them on Parzen Family Singers Bandcamp.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Trump America: Post-its from the edge (and the mood here in Houston)

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence…

post-its-union-square-trumpAbove: the number of Post-it notes at the Union Square subway station in Manhattan continues to grow. In another chapter of my life, I visited that subway stop nearly every day. This image and the ones that follow were sent to me by my friend and Manhattanite Ben Shapiro. Click on the images below for high-resolution versions and feel free to share them as you like.

According to a Fox News post published this week, “President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration advisers could recommend a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries and countries with significant problems with terrorism, according to a top ally.”

“Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach,” wrote the editors of the Fox website, “an immigration hard-liner who has been advising Trump, told Reuters that transition policy advisers are weighing the merits of such a registry.”

“A prominent supporter of Donald J. Trump [Carl Higbie] drew concern and condemnation from advocates for Muslims’ rights on Wednesday,” reported the New York Times this week, “after he cited World War II-era Japanese-American internment camps as a ‘precedent’ for an immigrant registry suggested by a member of the president-elect’s transition team.”

As a Jew who grew up attending a minimum of two hours of Shoah studies each week at Hebrew school until I became bar mitzvah at age 13 and as a student of European history throughout my undergraduate and graduate student career, the thought of a public registry of persons based on their religious beliefs sounds as horrific to me today as it did when President Trump first entertained the idea during his campaign many months ago.

The difference is that now, in Trump America, the registry could very well be implemented.

As a Jew I stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers and I applaud the formation, this week, of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, “a new national group of leading Muslim and Jewish Americans [that] was launched this month at a meeting convened by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).”

I applaud Jewish and Muslim leaders for taking a stand on the terrifying prospect that our nation could embrace such a policy. And I hope Christian leaders will do the same.

Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz are devoutly religious political figures within the Republican party. It’s hard for me to imagine that a registry based on religious beliefs will align with their Christian beliefs. I trust that their belief in G-d and the teachings of Jesus Christ will trump Trump’s vision for a religious-based registry.

Here in Houston, the mood is tense and people speak of the current situation — as Trump administration appointments trickle in — in hushed and restrained tones. So far my friends on the right have refrained (mostly) from deriding me for my views. (Surprisingly, the criticism of my politically inspired blogging has come mostly from the West Bank of the country.) Friends on the left seem to wait until the “coast is clear” before they speak up about their feelings. But when they do, their pain and disbelief seem to bleed from them.

Please have a look at the Post-its that follow. These tiny notes, like prayers tucked into the ancient walls of the Temple, speak volumes… (Thank you, Ben, for sending and sharing them.)

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10 Thanksgiving Wines for the Trump Era @HoustonPress

girolamo-russo-rosatoLike most red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans, you are probably dreading your first Trump-era Thanksgiving.

The once beloved American holiday, when everyone used to come together to celebrate the blessings shared by all Americans, has now been downgraded to a mandatory gathering where we eat a bunch of bland, fatty food and try not to grimace as uncle X or aunt Y or cousin Z serves up some wholly unpalatable moralizing chit-chat (Democratic, Republican, Marxist, Trumpist, or otherwise). Some of us will grin and bear it, pretending that things are actually great when obviously, as our new president has made abundantly clear, America needs to be made great again. Or we’ll gloat about how millions of families are about to be torn apart as masses of people are to be deported and how humane civic discourse is no longer considered laudatory among our politicians or citizens.

Either way, we are all going to need wine. After all, Bacchus’ favorite beverage is an excellent elixir when it comes to drowning out the Trumpist din, no matter what side of the aisle you walk on.

If you are a non-white American like me (I recently learned that Jews are not considered “whites” by many among the legions of Trump’s supporters) or even if you are a white American (lucky you!), you are probably going to need help with your selection. Yes, even I — a formerly white liberal who writes regularly about wine — need help with my purchases at Thanksgiving when economy is essential in terms of price ceiling and when a democratic spirit is needed to appease the wide spectrum of palates who will attend our flaming-red southeast Texas holiday celebration on the Louisiana border. (It’s funny, really, to think how varied palates can be among white people even though they are the same color on the outside!)

Click here to read my 10 picks for Thanksgiving this year over at the Houston Press.

Spring time for Donald and the alt-right. Winter for the rest of us who aren’t white…

der-spiegelAbove: in the wake of Trump’s win, the German magazine Der Spiegel published a cover that depicted him as a flaming asteroid heading toward earth. The title read: “the end of the world as we know it” (image via Twitter).

The day after Donald Trump was elected as the next president of the United States, my friend Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times tweeted the following:

As a white male I’m ashamed.
As a Jew I’m afraid.
As an American, 2018 can’t come soon enough.
As an earthling, I grieve for my planet.

(see tweet)

I have a lot of admiration for Eric, as a writer and a wine expert and taster. And I also know him to be a wise and adept arbiter of the zeitgeist. His sentiment resonated with me deeply and I retweeted him.

Here are just a few of the tweets that he received in response

Jews aren’t white, future lampshade. Stop pretending to be white, nobody is falling for it anymore.
(see tweet)

How can you be both White and Jew? Son of a Jew = Jew. Jew = NOT White.
(see tweet in thread)

This morning, my family and I awoke early to discover that Donald Trump has appointed his campaign manager Stephen Bannon, the executive editor of Breitbart News, as a top advisor.

Bannon is a self-avowed anti-semite and a champion of the extreme right movement in our country, the alt-right, whose members regularly espouse anti-semitic, misogynist, and racist rhetoric. There is no question where Bannon stands: between his own personal affirmations and the hate-fueled ideology that very publicly drives his media outlet, his anti-semitic views are well known among political and cultural observers.

He is not only one of the architects of our new president’s campaign but he is now going to be one of his top advisors in the White House.

Donald Trump claims not to be an anti-semite but he clearly holds the values and ideologies of anti-semites in high esteem. He has such great admiration for Bannon that he is going to work very closely with him in shaping American policy.

I am a Jew and I cannot stand for my president to allow such hatred to become part of my country’s policies.

His supporters claim that Jews are not “white.” That’s okay with me. I don’t need to be white. But does that mean that my children are not white? Gauging from Bannon’s supporters’ tone, they don’t consider my children to be white since they are part Jew. That’s okay with me, too.

But these attitudes are terrifying to me in the parallels that we can draw between them and the early policies of Nazi Germany. The historic similarities are uncanny.

Clearly, Bannon doesn’t subscribe to Judeo-Christian values. But does he subscribe to Christian values? Is anti-semitism okay with Christians? I’ll have to ask some of my “white” friends.

This is my president, people. I didn’t vote for him but he is my president. He is your president. He is our president. We cannot stand for this… The Parzen family will not stand for this. No ends justify these means.

Going back to a different America than the one I left 11 days ago…

The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
and whispered in the sounds of silence.

subway-post-its-new-york-trumpAbove: people fastened Post-it notes to the walls of the subway in New York City yesterday, prayers laical and religious, uttered in disbelief (photos by via Ben Shapiro).

“You’re going back to a different America than the one you left,” said one of my best friends in Italy yesterday as we continued to parse the meaning of the Trump presidency, the uncertainties it brings, and the dark future it conjures.

“Our only hope is in the Republicans,” he added, noting that the party of the American Right is the only political force that can reel in our newly elected, often unpredictable, and famously temperamental president.

From the 20-something students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences to my middle-aged Italian wine trade counterparts, not one person I spoke to expressed optimism this week in the wake of the election. I’ll just leave it at that.

Driving to Milan from Piedmont yesterday evening, I realized that actually I’m not going back to a different America. In fact, I’m going back to the America that always was and has been: the America I had conveniently (however wrongly and unwisely) chosen to ignore and the America who elected Donald Trump and delivered him and all the baggage that comes with him to the White House.

His overt misogyny, his latent and manifest bigotry, and his revolting macho swagger were no match for the hopes, desires, and dreams of the socially, culturally, and economically disenfranchised among us. In the end, their aspirations for our country trumped Trump. And so be it. So it is and so it will be. It’s their fair-and-square turn to lead us into the future. Echoing the vanquished, I believe that we owe it to them to let them lead and we owe it to them to support them in their endeavor to succeed.

Congratulations, Mr. Trump, and congratulations to all those who supported him. Let me be the first to say that I am with you even though I wasn’t among you. You are my sisters and brothers and I am your countryman. Lead on and I will follow and support you, not begrudgingly but earnestly and hopefully however mindfully.

And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls…

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G-d bless us all: let America be America again…

american-flagPlease see this op-ed published yesterday by Harry Belafonte in the New York Times.

In it he quotes the great American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967): “Let America Be America Again,” a poem written by Hughes in 1935 (published 1936).

Early in the morning of the 2016 presidential election, after a restless night, I am reminded as well of these lines from the closing poem of Hughes’ collection of poetry Weary Blues (published 1926).

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.

Yesterday
A night-gone thing,
A sun-down name.

And dawn-today
Broad arch above the road we came.

Hopefully tomorrow America will be America again.

G-d bless America. G-d bless us all.

Photo taken in San Diego, California, August 2016.

Blogger on campus: Wine Writing and Wine Blogging 101, day 1

students-italian-wineWhat a thrill for me to lead my first seminar on the UniSG campus this morning!

My first seminar in the Master’s in Italian Wine Culture program seemed to fly by as the students and I discussed the power of social media in marketing wine; the subjective and self-referential nature of wine writing and wine blogging; and pioneering wine blogs and taste-makers who have shaped the enoblogosphere as we know it today.

Topics ranged from Gertrude Stein and her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (the ultimate self-referential novel) to Roland Barthes and the notion of [wine] Writing Degree Zero (and so much more in between).

And as an experiment and exercise, we also tasted two wines, a white and a red, first blind and then with the labels revealed. As we reviewed our notes, we discussed how wine writing can span the sensorial and the cultural and how most wine writing lands somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

We also looked at three different descriptions of the same wine: the winery’s fact sheet; a score and tasting note; and a highly lyrical tasting note. Again, here, we looked at how wine writing can fall anywhere in between the purely technical to the nearly idiolectal (the most extreme form of self-referential wine writing).

It was a great morning, spent in the company of highly talented, motivated, and simpatico people.

After class, we all headed together to the campus cafeteria were the culinary theme of the day was Indian cuisine. And after lunch and coffee, we all gathered outside in the sunshine where the students asked me questions about life in Texas and America and shared their own impressions from their travels there (even in Texas, where one student told me he had the best steak he had ever tasted!).

One thing that is super cool about the Master’s in Italian Wine Culture program is that the group (11 students) is very close and shares all of their lunchtime meals together. Honestly, I’ve never seen a class of graduate students who were so in-tune with each other (usually it’s the opposite). The camaraderie and solidarity were as refreshing as they were inspiring.

A great first day on campus and looking forward to tomorrow’s seminar!

Click here to learn more about the Master’s in Italian Wine Culture program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.

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Wine blogging degree zero: a preview of my seminars this week @UniSG

Click here to learn more about the Master’s in Italian Wine Culture program at UniSG where I begin teaching this week.

And please follow along here on the blog where I’ll be posting about my experience on campus. Thanks for being here…

wine-writing-wine-blogging-differenceAbove: Taking a photograph of grapes (like these Chardonnay grapes) is a form of enography or wine writing. Some would argue it’s one of the purest forms because it simply captures a fleeting moment in the grape vine’s (and the wine’s) growing cycle.

One of the greatest works of critical theory to emerge from the 20th-century was Roland Barthes’ Writing Degree Zero. It’s a nuanced critique of social realism and the role that literature plays in the expression thereof. It was one of the first works among many that would follow where the “text” was considered distinctly from the author of the text.

Nietzsche said that G-d is dead.

Barthes said (in much more subtle and profound tones than I will go into here) that the author is dead.

Woody Allen said that Marx is dead… and I don’t feel so good myself.

Joking aside (although the joke is more pertinent here than I think many will realize or appreciate), Barthes probably couldn’t have ever imagined that there would be such a thing as wine blogging, although he surely would have seen it as an expression of bourgeoisie culture. With Writing Degree Zero, he did however give us an important for dissecting and getting to the bottom of the anatomy of a wine blog post.

In Writing Degree Zero, he considers (and am I largely paraphrasing here) writing on a spectrum.

Borrowing liberally from this book, with my own liberal adaptation of his model, we can establish two “poles” of wine writing.

On the one side, let’s say to the left for sake of argument (but not sake of political connotation), you have pure technical wine writing. In other words, writing where clarity and succinctness are key. Instructions on how to build a model airplane would fall on the left side of the spectrum, to give you an example. When it comes to wine writing, a wine fact sheet (a “tech sheet” or technical description of the wine) would similarly fall on the left.

On the very far right hand side of the spectrum, you will find poetical language and even incomprehensible language (in the case of the latter, that would be language that can be defined as an idiolect, a language that only one person speaks). Here, an abstract, hermetic poem by a 20th-century poet is right at home with a lyrical description of a wine (Samantha Dugan’s blog, “Samantha Sans Dosage” is a great example of a wine blog that leans heavily in this direction).

technical description of wine — lyrical description of wine

Nearly every wine blog post will fall somewhere in between these two extremes and in more cases than not, the discourse will lean more toward one pole than the other.

Historically, Robert Parker, Jr. and his 100-point scoring system for the wines he reviews represents one of the most extreme expressions of left-leaning wine writing on Barthes’ spectrum. An extreme example of right-leaning wine writing is represented by Alice Feiring and her highly personal narrative style.

One of the over-arching themes we will be covering in our seminars on wine writing and blogging and how it has evolved in the modern era. The greatest wine writing (I believe) benefits from the tension between those two poles. And the spectrum also gives a guide in understanding how wine writing, in part because of its highly subjective nature, rarely delivers absolute truth.

Ampelographers like José Vouillamoz and Attilio Scienza can argue over the accuracy of their entries for Italian grape varieties. But even in the case of this descriptive form of wine writing, the answers — the accuracy — is often gray as opposed to black and white.

Lyrical writers like Samantha Dugan and Alice Feiring probably don’t argue at all. But is it possible that their writing delivers a clarity and a shade of truth that can only be rendered by their lyrical and narrative styles?

Let’s discuss…

Letter to my daughters and the Houston I love…

jeremy-parzen-wifeDear Georgia P and Lila Jane,

Tonight I leave for the umpteenth trip abroad this year for work. The last for 2016, thank goodness!

The two of you couldn’t have given me a better going-away present.

Yesterday, on the way back from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and lunch at the bagel place, we talked about how I was going away on a trip and I told you how much I was going to miss you.

“I’m going to miss you guys so much,” I said.

“I’m going to miss you, too, daddy!” Georgia, you told me.

“I’m going to miss you, too!” Lila Jane, you chimed in.

“I love you guys,” I answered.

“I love you, too!”

“I love you, too!”

Then I said: “I’m going to be so sad without you.”

“You can’t be sad on your trip, daddy!” Georgia, you confidently counseled me. “You need to be happy on your trip.”

You both could tell that I was tearing up a little in the driver’s seat of our minivan.

If there’s anything I hope that your mother and I can give you, it’s empathy… empathy for each other and everyone in our family, empathy for everyone we meet, every day… empathy for humankind and the world we live in…

Some day I’ll look back on this weekend and think about how you two came with your mother and me on Saturday morning to vote for Hilary Clinton, who will most likely be the first woman president of our country.

And I’ll also remember that this was the weekend that Anthony Bourdain aired his “Parts Unknown” episode devoted to Houston.

In it, he celebrates our city’s rich diversity of peoples and food cultures (check out Alison Cook’s review of the episode, which I believe you can access for a limited time). A number of the places he visits are right up the road from us on Hillcroft and we’ve been to a bunch of them together.

In a week, this tumultuous, roller-coaster ride of an election season will finally come to a close and we will have a new president. As Bourdain implies in his not-too-subtle riff on our nation’s mood, diversity and empathy are two things that can only make the world a brighter place.

The sun is shining today on all of us and I will miss you dearly when I’m gone. Your empathy, your hearts, your sweet sweet smiles are the greatest going-away gift I could ever receive. I love you…

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Op-ed: Alfonso Cevola criticizes the “Instagram generation” of wine buyers. A Houston sommelier responds.

Today’s op-ed is by Thomas Moësse (below), Houston-based sommelier and wine director at Divino, where he runs one of the top Italian-focused wine lists in the state.

thomas-moesse-moe%cc%88sse-wine-houstonRecently, I read Alfonso Cevola’s blog post “The Endangered Wine List in the New Millennium” and spat out my morning tablet of Adderall.

[Editor’s note: in his post, Cevola writes that he doesn’t want “to be dazzled (or blinded) by the wizardry of young somms on the Adderall of ambition.”]

I hold Alfonso in the highest esteem and value his perspective on the constantly shifting and ever-exciting terrain of Italian Wine.

However, in this post Mr. Cevola voiced a series of complaints about the state of the wine list in our market and not without a telltale note of salinity.

He appears to draw a line in the sand. This line seems to exist ideologically between classics and upstarts and sociologically between industry veterans and young wine buyers (referred to as “the Instagram generation”). Mr. Cevola purports to be on the side of the consumer. But I feel differently.

First he mentions a lack of recognizable (“revered” and “essential”) selections on these wine lists. If buyers are foregoing the classics on their lists, maybe it is because they are advocates for their guest first and foremost — both are being left behind by exponential pricing increases and the corresponding unattainability of those vins de garde.

Furthermore, I can speak personally to a trend that I have seen among consumers of wine in restaurants like ours.

Long gone are the comments like “what kind of Italian restaurant doesn’t have Tignanello?” More commonly we encounter questions like “what will go best with our food?” Today’s consumer is not scanning a wine list for producers they recognize so much as they want some help with a discovery. Our job as wine service professionals is part curation and consultation. We ask questions first. We pair the wine with the guest and we form a relationship of trust.

If compiling a selection of essential wines is our only purpose, then why do we work so hard? Why do we travel to wine fairs, visit wineries with eight hectares of singular beauty to better communicate our passion? Is our passion relevant at all? If it’s as easy as he suggests, then maybe Mr. Cevola could write our lists for us (a service that his employer Southern-Glazer’s is more than willing to perform).

Simply put, we are living in the golden era of wine. More growers are producing great wine rather than merely selling their grapes. Their approach is a custodial one. The reverence for vineyard and the avoidance of manipulation constitute a revolution in how we think about wine. These are not just trends, and dwindling are the days of unscrupulous, large-production wines merely sold by the caché of their label.

It takes work to assess the bounty of wines available to us through large distributors and small direct import companies as well as an obligation to our guests to do that research, trust our instincts (not Instagram) and choose vibrant, sound wines for every imaginable consumer that might walk through our door.

That work is fueled by passion, not Adderall.

Thomas Moësse
Divino
Houston