Taste with me tonight, tomorrow, and Thursday at Roma in Houston!

Houston wine friends: I’m back in Texas and will be pouring at Roma in Rice Village TONIGHT (FREE tasting), TOMRROW (in-person wine dinner, including black truffles shaved tableside), and THURSDAY (for our weekly virtual wine dinner via Zoom).

Click here for details.

Please come on down or log on and say hello!

I’m looking forward to sharing tales from my Italy trip and opening some bottles of Italian wine with you!

Tonight, I pour at our free tasting at 6. And then I’ll be working the floor of the restaurant all night. Please come by and say hello! Thanks for the support.

Getting your covid test in Italy before returning to the U.S. Notes from both sides of the Atlantic.

The covid testing kiosk in the arrivals area at Malpensa airport in Milan.

As soon as friends and colleagues started to notice that I was heading back to Italy, I started to receive messages about covid travel protocols here in the U.S. and on the other side of the Atlantic.

Here’s what I can tell you about my recent experience during my July 18-August 6 trip (my first in more than eighteen months, a long stretch for someone who regularly makes six or more trips to his spiritual homeland each year).

Nota bene: this is not professional advice or official information on what is required. I highly recommend visiting the U.S. Rome embassy website’s covid page for authoritative information. I also recommend signing up for the embassy’s newsletter and reading their updates before and during your trip.

Before leaving in July, it wasn’t clear to me whether I just needed my CDC vaccine card (I’m fully vaccinated, for the record) or whether a covid negative test result was required as well. I used the United Airlines “travel center” to upload both a negative test result and my CDC card. The covid test had to be administered no sooner than 72 hours before my departure. I did mine the day before.

When I arrived at Malpensa airport in Milan, all non-EU passengers were asked to share the documentation with officials before we got to the passport control. As soon as I pulled my CDC card out of its case, he waved me on. He didn’t ask for identification nor did he examine my documentation. That was it. Next stop was the passport control and after an official stamped mine, I was on my way to the rental car pick up.

I got my pre-flight covid test at a drive-in (not drive-through) outpost not far from the airport.

Again, this is not official information or professional advice. Please look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel requirement page. Here’s what it says: “If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get tested no more than 3 days before you travel by air into the United States (US) and show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.”

It’s my understanding that even vaccinated travelers need to show a negative result. There are some exceptions. See the CDC site for details.

According to my UniSG students — I was teaching at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Piedmont — there was easy-access testing in Bra, the nearby city where most of the students and visiting professors like me stay. And from what I observed while in Italy, there are plenty of options for testing, although it seemed that you in many cases, you either had to call (which might be a problem for travelers who don’t speak Italian) or visit in person to get an appointment.

I was planning on staying at a hotel at the airport the night before my departure. It was easy to find multiple testing “drive-through” testing sites in the area where you could register online. I got my test at the one in the photo above. I had registered online a few days before and was able to print out all the required documents.

It wasn’t a “drive-through” in the American sense but rather a “drive-in” where you parked and someone came out to your car to administer the test. I waited for about 15 minutes before they brought me the result. The health professional who gave me the test had lived in the U.S. and he spoke English to me as soon as he saw my passport. He created a English-language version of my test results (which was super cool of him).

As soon as I arrived at the airport, I uploaded my result using the United Airlines app on my phone (via their Travel Center). I received a text about 10 minutes later informing me that it was approved. And that was it.

At the airport, there were at least two options for getting tested on the spot. One was in the arrivals area (the first photo in this post). The other was in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel (above).

I checked online to see available for the one located in the arrivals area. At roughly 7 a.m., it showed the first availability at 8:33 a.m. As I was walking by the kiosk, a young American asked, in English, what time they opened. 8:30 a.m., said the health professional who was preparing to open the testing spot.

I didn’t look at availability for the other testing center.

The Duomo in Milan on Friday, August 6, the day before I left Italy and returned the U.S.

If you don’t speak English, I highly recommend checking with the front desk or concierge at your hotel. From what I observed, there was no shortage of options. And I imagine that many hospitality professionals can point you English-friendly testing spots.

Traveling, especially right now, can be stressful when you don’t speak the home country’s language. From what I saw and heard from other travelers, there were myriad options. Getting a test was relatively easy for everyone I spoke to.

Get vaccinated, wear a mask, and travel safe!

At the Slow Food University, the meglio gioventù. A last dispatch from Piedmont.

Above: some of the 2021 wine communications and food communications students in the graduate program at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy.

Things are a little different here in Pollenzo in Piedmont, Italy, where I’ve been a communications instructor in the graduate program for the last six years. Of course, they didn’t bring me over last year for reasons that we all know all too well.

This year, for the first time since I began teaching here in 2016, in-person attendance is no longer required and many of my 30+ students follow from home. The photo above was snapped yesterday in one of the largest classrooms on campus: the extra space allows the students to distance if they prefer.

Masks are mandatory for the staff like me. I wear mine religiously. The students, nearly all of them fully vaccinated as far as I know, generally do not wear them. (I’m fully vaccinated as well, for the record.) After teaching for nearly three weeks with mask on, I have even more respect for teachers in the U.S. and everywhere: in ways I didn’t expect, it’s extremely challenging to lecture for three hours straight with a mask on. Luckily, every classroom is outfitted with a microphone and a public address system that mitigates the need for volume.

Despite all the new-normals of campus life, the experience has reminded me of why we do this in the first place: the students and their journey in discovering and exploring what they want to do when they grow up. For all the homesickness and the hassles of being away from Houston for such a long stretch, the immense reward is the bright light that appears in their eyes as their curiosity is sparked and sometimes satiated.

I wish that everyone could have been in the classroom when my wine communications students and I re-watched some of our wine industry colleagues’ powerful Instagram videos from 2020 calling for social changes in our trade. It was our last hour of class together (although they also attend my food communications lectures).

The discussion that followed not only gave me hope that our work will make the world a better place to eat, as one of my students put it during my first year teaching here in Roero. It also filled me with joy to remember that the students always seem to have an innate sense that compels them to infuse their professional lives with activism — whether combatting climate change, food inequality, or discrimination.

Like Pasolini’s Casarsans, they are the meglio gioventù — the best of youth. And they are what makes this whole crazy world of food and wine all worthwhile.

Your part has ended in light
and I have no darkness in me
to hold your shadow.

Pier Paolo Pasolini
1954

A unicorn (yes, we found one) and impossibly delicate baby cuttlefish at Nalin in mainland Venice.

When Giovanni and I sat down at Trattoria Nalin in mainland Venice on Saturday at around 1:30 p.m., we basically just said please start bringing us crudo and please bring us the wine list.

The super professional staff at this historic seafood destination did just that. But at the end of the crudo flight, the owner offered also us an unusual and entirely unexpected delicacy: flash-grilled baby cuttlefish that only appear for a brief window during this time of year. They are called seppioline di porto or harbor baby cuttlefish because these little cephalopods tend to gravitate toward the banks of the port.

They were impossibly delicate and when you bit into them you were rewarded with a “pop” of their ink. It was undeniably the best thing I’ve eaten this year.

And of course it was only natural, after we ordered a couple of dream whites — a 2013 Friulano by Borgo del Tiglio and a 1999 Pinot Blanc from Vigne di Zamò (see below) — that the gracious and generous owner would reach deep into his cellar for a 1995 Radikon white blend.

Now, if that isn’t a unicorn, then I don’t know what is, folks!

Like a pre-CBS-era Fender amp, Radikon’s pre-maceration-era wines are intensely coveted among Friulian wine lovers. This wine was incredibly fresh, with only gentle notes of nutty oxidation and rich notes of dried stone fruit in the mouth. We lingered for at least an hour over this wine and it never lost its vibrant and very much “alive” character. The decade is young but this wine is going to set a high standard to follow! What an incredible wine.

Here are some snaps of the other things we ate and drank. The cuttlefish julienne and the langoustine (scampi) were highlights among the spectacular crudo lineup. The Pinot Blanc paired magically with the oysters.
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Pinot Noir’s spiritual homeland in Italy: the extraordinary wines of Valeria Radici Odero’s Frecciarossa.

Like many American wine professionals, I had only ever tasted the classic method wines of Oltrepò Pavese pioneer Frecciarossa. But that all changed during the lockdowns thanks to a mid-sized importer of Italian wines in Texas.

I had called Doug Skopp, the owner of Dionysus Imports, to ask him if he had any wineries that would like to take part in the virtual wine dinner series I was moderating each week at Roma restaurant in Houston. He was eager to suggest “it kid” Italian flying winemaker Cristiano Garella and the wines of the legendary Oltrepò estate. But when I told him that we didn’t normally use sparkling wines for our weekly events, he was quick to point out that he imports only the winery’s still wines.

Not only was Cristiano one of the most compelling speakers in our series. But the wines, and in particular the Pinot Noir vinified off its skins (as a white wine), really impressed me with their depth, nuance, and originality.

After my first week of teaching at Slow Food U. in Bra, Piedmont (my first time back in Italy after more than a year and a half), I hopped in my rented Fiat 500L and made a beeline to the other side of the Po River in Lombardy (Oltrepò means literally on the other side of the Po [river]; Pavese is a toponym that denotes Pavia province).

Those are the some of the cows (above) that Valeria Radici Odero uses for compost on her organic farm (certified as of the 2020 vintage). She is the granddaughter of Giorgio Odero, the man who first begin making fine wines there. She is also one of the most brilliant winery owners I’ve ever met, a true wine professional with fantastic communications chops and a razor-sharp palate.

She had graciously squeezed me in with a group of young Piedmontese wine lovers who had reserved a tasting and tour with her that day (thank you again, Valeria, you are awesome!).

Her 2016 Pinot Nero dell’Oltrepò Pavese Giorgio Odero floored me with its rich flavor profile and lithe character. What a stunning wine, with great freshness on the nose and incredible lift in the mouth. It made me reflect on Italy’s wildly diverse mosaic of terroir: while I’ve tasted great still Pinot Noir from Trentino, Alto Adige, and Friuli, few wines have moved me the way this one did.

Frecciarossa’s wines remind me of why I keep doing what I do for a living: the endless viticultural adventures and discoveries that Italy shares with us as we explore the country’s myriad natural and human-made treasures.

Valeria, who speaks impeccable English, has promised me that Houston is going to be one of her first stops as soon as Italians are allowed to return to the U.S. I can’t wait to introduce her and share her wines with our guests back in Houston.

We left our hearts on Lake Iseo. A new favorite restaurant. #bromance

It wasn’t until day six of my first trip to Italy in more than a year and a half that I was finally able to sit down with my bromance Giovanni Arcari for a proper dinner.

We went to our favorite restaurant in Franciacorta, Dispensa Pani e Vini, where we literally laughed so hard that we cried. Man, it had been so long since that had happened. It felt great.

The next morning we headed up to Lake Iseo for an aperitivo before I headed back to Piedmont to teach the next day at Slow Food U.

And it was there that Giovanni turned me on to one of his favorite spots: Darsena 21, a converted boathouse (darsena means dock in Italian).

What a magical spot!

Those are anchovies from Cantabria, Spain. They are all the rage at the moment in Italy. Nearly every day I’ve been here, I’ve eaten them in one form or another.

Darsena 21 owner Daniele Scotti prides himself on using olive oil-cured Cantabrian anchovies. He said that most of the filets you get are cured in sunflower oil. I have to say that these were the best so far. He served these with a side of stracciatella di Andria, the chunky filling used for the famous burrata of Andria, Puglia. Wow… That dish was incredible.

The “Pès and Chips” is made with fresh cod (pès is Brescia dialect for pesce or fish).

Super.

I’ll probably never be able to wrap my mind around the fact that the American club sandwich has become ubiquitous in northern Italy. The difference between theirs and ours is that they use much higher quality ingredients. The bread, bacon, and mayonnaise alone would be worth the price of admission!

Delicious. Great hangover comfort food (not that we were hungover!).

And dulcis in fundo, some geese stopped by to say hello and forage for a French fry or two.

Daniele is a legendary mixologist around those parts. The next I’m up that way, I plan to hit up the brunch and his Bloody Mary.

If and when you make it to Lake Iseo in Franciacorta (and I sincerely hope that you’ll make the trip because it’s worth it), check it out. You won’t regret it. Tell ’em I sent you!

Cascina Baricchi: the best Barbaresco you’ve never tasted.

Only a few savvy insiders in America know the wines raised by the amazing Natale Baricchi on his family’s farm, Cascina Baricchi, on the eastern edge of the Barbaresco appellation.

Partly because of wine but more so because of our shared passion for guitar (he’s got an amazing collection of handmade acoustic guitars, including some Spanish gems), Natale Baricchi, his wife Francesca, and I became good friends two years ago when I was teaching in Piedmont at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra.

Yesterday, the couple hosted me and my Franciacorta bromances Nico Danesi and Giovanni Arcari for dinner and an informal tasting of their Cascina Baricchi Barbaresco (accompanied by guitar, of course!). That’s Nico, Franciacorta winemaker of acclaim, in the photo above.

Francesca and Natale live in the commune of Neviglie, just to the east of the Barbaresco appellation. But their vineyards are in the Barbaresco DOCG. Because Natale’s father began making wine there decades ago, they are “grandparented” into the appellation (their case is an exception but for most producers the grapes have to be transformed into wine within the appellation borders). Natale’s dad was super tight buds with Angelo G., who helped him early on when he was first planting Nebbiolo there.

Natale likes to hold his wines back. His current release is Barbaresco 2014 (most producers have already released their 2016). We also tasted the 2004. Both wines were extraordinary. The 04 was one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year, nearly fully evolved and drinking gorgeously.

It was all accompanied by Francesca’s homemade vitello tonnato, a little bit of insalata russa, freshly cut tomatoes, a wedge of farinata, and a slice of crusty bread. Superb!

Natale and Francesca are in the processing of changing U.S. importers. I think a lot of people will be very happy with the results in terms of availability moving forward.

And when I see you in person, I’ll tell you a voce about some of their noteworthy clients. Once you taste the wines, you’ll understand why so many Nebbiolo greats collect these.

Man, it’s great to be back in Italy again. Seeing my friends, tasting new releases and vintages, and remembering what makes my world go around.

Thank you Natale and Francesca! I love you guys! (Thanks also for letting me play you the new song I wrote for Tracie! That meant the world to me.)

Feels like the first time: heading back to Italy after more than a year and a half.

Breakfast with the family this morning brought on an emotion not felt in more than 30 years: this erstwhile Medieval poetry and now wine scribbler is heading back to their spiritual homeland since being away for more than 18 months.

And it feels like the first time.

As the girls were getting ready for summer camp, an old and addled box of photographs found its way to my desk.

That’s a photo of me, above, in Ostia (the Roman coastal city) in 1987 during my first academic year in Italy on the University of California Education Abroad Program, the only curriculum at the time that allowed students to study side-by-side with Italians — with instruction in Italian.

That experience forever shaped my professional and personal life.

By year’s end, my first piano bar gig came along.

That’s me, above, playing my very first show at the Bar Margherita on Piazza della Frutta in Padua.

The person in the lower right-hand corner is Ruggero Robin, one of Italy’s top jazz guitarists. He would become my first friend in Italy and we would play countless gigs together when music was the income that kept me afloat during my studies.

This guitar player was way out of their league when they they played with Ruggero but the money was always decent and we would always have a blast together. (If you’ve ever been to VinNatur, you might have heard Ruggero play. He’s super tight with the Maule family.)

In normal years, this Italy-bound traveler would go to their spiritual homeland six times a year, between teaching, researching and tasting, trade fairs, and client visits. There was one year when I made nine (!!!) trips to Italy in less than 12 months.

But after being separated so long from my signora, this one feels different. It feels big like that first time, that first contact, that first kiss with the country that would become my lifeblood in so many ways. It even made for the connection between me and my life partner, Tracie, mother to our children.

On Sunday, I leave for three weeks of teaching at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont. There will be some good eating and drinking, too. And maybe even some music.

Sister Italy, my alma mater, where would I be today without you???!!!

I can’t wait to leap into your arms and feel your embrace!

Wish me luck and wish me speed. See you on the other side…

You say Prosecco, they say Prošek. Croatia unlikely to prevail in trademark claim over world’s most popular wine.

You may have already seen the scandalous headlines in the Italian mainstream media: “Prosecco under attack” and “The latest assault on Prosecco.”

If you’re reading this, it’s more likely that you’ve seen a headline or two in the English-language press: “Croatia and Italy renew feud over Prošek and Prosecco wines.”

“Croatian winemakers have leapt to the defence of their centuries-old dessert wine, Prošek amid a renewed Prosecco identity war,” wrote Angela Giuffrida for the Guardian earlier this month.

    Italy said it would defend Prosecco at all costs after Croatia applied to the European Commission for special recognition of Prošek [a Croatian dried-grape wine].
    It is the second time Croatia has moved to get the trademark recognised after Italy succeeded in blocking a first attempt in 2013, arguing that the name Prošek was too similar to Prosecco. Croatian winemakers agree that the two words sound similar, but they argue that consumers can easily distinguish between the two.

“This request,” wrote the Prosecco DOC consortium in a statement responding to the move by the Croatians, “could undermine the entire appellation system in Europe.”

But the Croatians’ efforts are unlikely to succeed.

As leading Italian wine writer and trade observer Maurizio Gily notes in his newsletter this week, Italian growers of Prosecco were the first to use the trademark Prosecco beyond Italy’s borders. In accordance with EU trademark law, this gives them the “precedent” and the right to use the name commercially.

Perhaps more significantly, Gily writes, Prosecco has come to be recognized as a place name thanks to the Prosecco consortia’s efforts to associate the name with the geographic area where Prosecco is grown and vinified (the recent designation of the Prosecco DOCG as a UNESCO heritage site bolsters the consortia’s claim).

In the light of this, Croatian producers of the dried-grape wine Prošek will most likely be denied the right to use the name commercially. It would only create confusion in the marketplace, lawyers for the Prosecco consortia will argue.

You may remember that in 2007, the European Commission ruled in favor of Hungarian producers of Tokaji who wanted to bar Italian growers from using the name Tocai on the labels of wines to be sold outside Italy. It was the inverse of what will happen in this case, writes Gily. In this instance, the Hungarians could rightly lay claim to the trademark because they were the first to use it in international commerce. This precedent will undoubtedly help the Italians in their claim.

It’s worth pointing out that Prošek is also the Slovenian name for the village of Prosecco in Trieste province. There, in the semi-autonomous region of Friuli, street signs are written in both Italian (“Prosecco”) and Friulian dialect (“Prosek”), as in the image above. It comes from the Slavic prošek meaning clear-felled, in other words, a place cleared of trees. Some believe that the village was once a transit hub. It’s origin as a place for commerce may be the reason, some argue, that the toponym came to be associated with the wine.

In other (unrelated) news…

As Gily notes in his dispatch, the current “Prosecco war” has nothing to do with Putin’s unrelated (absurdist) efforts to claim the name “Champagne” for sparkling wines in Russia.

Image via the Gambero Rosso forum.

Falling In Love Again, a new song for Tracie P by Parzen Family Singers

It’s been a great summer for our family so far and it’s been a magical time in our lives as we can get out again and our work is thriving.

And… I’m falling in love again.

“I’m Falling In Love Again”
written, performed, recorded, and produced
by Parzen Family Singers
Baby P Studios
Houston

Do you ever wonder
How the stars aligned
Strangers passing in the night
Honky tonks and wine

What was it that caught your eye
When I happened to pass by
Was it just that note I wrote
In a long ago July

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
Every little bit of joy and laughter
Every little bit of tears and pain

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again

When I was a little kid
They told us a fairytale
All you had to do in life was to
Set your ship to sail

Find the perfect lover
Then it may come true
What makes the world go round & round
When I first looked at you

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
Every little bit of joy and laughter
Every little bit of tears and pain

Every little bit of sunshine
Every single day
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again

Who could ever know
How much our love would grow
Who could ever see
What our love could be

And as you look at me
It’s no mystery
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love