Happy birthday Paolo. I love you, I miss you.

My bromance Paolo Cantele is celebrating a special birthday today. In any other year, he and I would be together on this day, as we have been on many of his birthdays over the years.

That’s a video I made for a song I wrote about him a few years ago, above. He’s a rocker and so it had to be heavy.

Paolo has been my friend and client for more than 10 years now. Together, we have achieved some of the highest highs in our line of work. We’ve also shared some of the best meals and wines of my life together, in part thanks to his wonderful generosity.

But the thing I cherish the most — and I believe he does, too — is our long road trips across the U.S.: the conversations, the music, the on-the-road camaraderie. That’s Paolo during our very last road trip (alone or together) in February of 2020 in Boulder, Colorado. On that trip, we left from Houston, where we had done an event the night before. We then did an event in Dallas. Got trolled by a Trumper during lunch on our way to do an event in Tulsa. Did an amazing dinner at Tavernetta in Denver the next night. And ended up at Boulder Wine Merchant and then later that night at our favorite restaurant in the U.S., Frasca.

That’s me and Paolo from a couple of years ago when we did an epic wine dinner in Houston for more than 100 people. That was an incredible night.

Paolo is the king of Instagram and Instagram filters. I love this photo of him. Check it out in the video above, too.

One of our greatest moments of working together was this story by Ray Isle in Food & Wine where Ray recounts his visit to Salento and a cooking class at the Cantele winery. What a great memory!

That’s Paolo with his brother Gianni. Paolo’s the “rock ‘n’ roll kid” in the family, Gianni is Salento’s Captain America. They’re both wonderful, lovely men with whom I’ve spent many unforgettable evenings tasting and talking and trading notes on what’s important in life. Both of them put so much soul into their family’s wines.

That’s Paolo holding a baby Georgia in his arms! Before Lila Jane was born, we took her on a tour of Italy, including a fantastic stay in Lecce, one of our favorite cities in Italy, where Paolo lives. It was Georgia’s first time in Europe.

Is there any question that Paolo should be played by Gary Oldman in the movie, “The Cantele Story”? I took that Photo back in Austin in a distant 2008 when I had just moved to Texas and Paolo and I first met on a “work with,” as we call them in the trade.

That’s Paolo and Tracie on this day 10 years ago when he celebrated is birthday with us at our home in Austin.

It must have been around that same time that I first took Paolo to experience Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Little Long Horn Saloon in Austin where we lived when I first got to the state.

Paolo, my Italian brother by another mother! I love you and I miss you. Happy birthday man. I miss our road trips, our conversations about books, movies, music, philosophy, politics… I miss you man. I wish I were there celebrating with you. We’ll make up for lost time once I can get back to you and you to us.

Rock on, brother. Our world is a better place because you’re in it. Un abbraccio forte.

It’s time to counter fine wine’s historic hostility to Black people.

Above: American artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z bought a Champagne house and launched his own wine after racist comments by a Champagne executive (photo via NRK-P3’s Flickr Creative Commons).

The American artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z made headlines in 2014 when he purchased a historic Champagne house and announced his plan to launch his own line of méthode Champenoise wine.

The move was prompted by overtly racist comments made by an executive for the singer’s favorite Champagne brand.

When asked what he thought about American rappers singing about the wine and using it as a prop in their music videos, said executive replied: “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

The rapper would later sing:

    I used to drink [said Champagne], them motherfuckers racist
    So I switched gold bottles on to that Spade shit

Jay-Z’s new label is known as “Ace of Spades.”

A year prior, a noted Italian winemaker had published a racist rant aimed at Italy’s newly seated minister for integration, the country’s first Black cabinet member. When confronted by previous fans of his wine online, said producer doubled down and publicly professed his acute animus toward Black people in general.

Some years earlier, in the pre-social media age, an Italian winery known for its white wines published a much circulated flier with an image of a young Black woman on it. Her chest was uncovered and she had a glass of white wine in her hand. The caption read: “I like whites, too!”

Those are just the public instances of overt racism that come to mind. But they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Just ask any Black wine professional, whether writer or tradesperson, what it’s like to be the only Black person in the room at a given tasting. The anecdotes of ignoble treatment will be myriad.

As the world of wine tries to move past its historic hostility toward Black people, a new movement for inclusion, equity, and dignity-based treatment has taken shape among White wine trade members.

That’s a good thing, no doubt.

But in the light of the industry’s newly found self-awareness, the reaction to a recent post of mine was all the more surprising.

After I suggested that we change the name of an Italian grape variety to make it inoffensive to Black people in this country, I was accused of wokeness. Is that really such a crime? Especially given the industry’s historic antagonism of Black people, is it so wrong to make a similar proposal? Evidently a number of people feel that way.

What I’m proposing — an evolution of the grape name, not a so-called cancellation — has nothing to do with wokeness or cancel culture.

It’s inspired by common decency and sense.

To all of my detractors, I propose this. You stand before a group of roughly 100 wine lovers in a restaurant on a Thursday night in Houston where nearly half the crowd is Black. Let’s even throw in a small sound system into the equation so that your voice is crystal clear. And with bottle in hand, you try presenting a grape called Negroamaro.

I’m not asking Italians to change their grape name. I’m asking them and their American partners to adapt it for Black market here in the U.S.

I’m not asking the world to cancel every name that has the word Negro in it. I’m asking the wine world to acknowledge that Black people like Italian wine, too.

I’m not asking my fellow wine professionals to diminish Italian viticulture or culture at large. I’m asking them to pay attention to the sensibilities of Black wine lovers in this country. A group that has been historically overlooked, ignored, and maltreated by the wine industry. If you claim that you haven’t seen ample evidence of that legacy in the #BLM era, you are disingenuous.

With all the EU funds that will become available next year for Italian winemakers to promote their products in America, where they sell 70 percent — yes 70 percent — of their output by most industry estimates, will it be so painful for them to create a new label for our market?

I can assure you it will be plenty painful for many Black wine lovers if they don’t.

A better translation for “sperone cordonato.” Film yeast, false friends, bad translations. Italian wine glossary updated.

Sit tibi terra levis Iacobe. See this round-up of tributes to beloved winemaker and grape grower Jim Clendenen. News of his passing stunned a saddened and diminished wine world on Monday. I only had the opportunity to interact with him a few times but Tracie and I have always enjoyed the wines immensely. When we lived in Austin, he and I shared the same hair dresser. No joke! He had better hair than me. And he was always so warm and nice when we met him. One of the greatest wine people of our generation. Lovely man and legacy wines that shaped a legion of young wine professionals in this country.

The work of a lexicographer is as thankless as it is exhausting. Yet we glossographers soldier on.

This morning, I updated and added a couple of terms to the Italian wine terms glossary (below).

One new entry is for fioretta or film yeast/surface yeast/mycoderma. Thanks to Italian wine professional Barbara Santilli for suggesting that one.

The entries for criomacerazione or cold soak and filtro a cartone or plate filter were inspired by the challenges these terms have posed for Italian interlocutors on our weekly virtual wine dinner calls.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard an Italian call their filter a “cardboard filter” (a false friend), I’d buy all the Tavernello I could (see the new entry for vino dozzinale or plonk below).

And lastly, I owe the newly updated rendering of cordone speronato or permanent cordon to a blog post by Jamie Goode (whom I don’t know personally but whose writing I admire).

No update of the glossary would be complete without thanking the “vineyard doctor” Maurizio Gily, one of Italy’s most prolific flying vineyard managers and prodigious publisher of viticultural miscellanea. Maurizio has been instrumental in dotting some of these i’s and crossing some of these t’s.

Buona lettura. Enjoy.

a giropoggio vines planted across a slope (along the contour of the slope; compare with a ritocchino)
a ritocchino vines planted up and down a slope (from peak to valley; compare with a giropoggio)
acciaio (inossidabile) stainless-steel (vat/tank)
acinellatura millerandage (shot berries, hens and chicks, or pumpkins and peas)
affinamento aging
alberello head-trained bush vines
allegagione fruit set
allevamento training
apice vegetativo shoot tip
argilla clay
arresto di fermentazione stuck fermentation
assemblaggio blend
azoto nitrogen
barbatella rooted cutting/bench graft
barrique barrique (small French oak cask)
bâtonnage stirring on the lees
biodinamica biodynamics/biodynamic
biologico organic
botte traditional large cask
bucce skins
Cabernet (Sauvignon) Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Franc
calcare/calcareo limestone/calcareous (limestone-rich)
capo a frutto fruit cane
cappello sommerso submerged cap maceration
chioma canopy
chiusura grappolo bunch closure
cimatura hedging
cocciniglia mealybug
cordone cordon
cordone speronato permanent cordon (cordon-trained spur-pruned vines)
criomacerazione cold soak
cru vineyard designation/single vineyard
cuvée blend
délestage rack and return
diradamento dei grappoli pruning/thinning grapes/dropping fruit/green harvest
diradamento di germogli shoot thinning
diraspare/diraspatrice de-stem/de-stemmer
diserbante termico weed torch/weed flamer
DOC DOC (designation of controlled origin)
DOCG DOCG (designation of controlled and guaranteed origin)
DOP PDO (protected designation of origin)
doppio capovolto double-arched cane (training)
drenaggio drainage
esca esca (black dead arm or black measles)
escursione termica diurnal shift (temperature variation)
femminella lateral shoot
fermentazione arrestata stuck fermentation
filare row
filtro a cartone plate filter (pad filter)
fioretta film yeast/surface yeast/mycoderma
flavescenza dorata grapevine yellows (flavescence dorée)
follatura punching down
forma di allevamento training system/trellis system
galestro galestro (a marl- and limestone-rich subsoil unique to Tuscany)
gemma bud
gemma dormiente, gemma d’inverno dormant bud
germogliamento budbreak/budburst
giropoggio vines planted across a slope (along the contour of the slope; compare with a ritocchino)
grappa grappa
grappolo cluster/bunch
grappolo spargolo loosely clustered grape bunch
Guyot Guyot
IGP PGI (protected geographical indication)
IGT IGT (typical geographical indication)
inerbimento sward management of the soil
innesto graft
interfila inter-row
invaiatura veraison
lievito naturale native/ambient/indigenous/wild yeast
lievito selezionato cultured yeast
limo silt
macchia mediterranea Mediterranean maquis (shrubland)
maestrale (vento di maestrale) north-westerly wind
malolattica malolactic fermentation
marna/marne marl
marza scion
maturazione ripening
monovitigno single-grape variety (wine)
mosto must
oidio oidium (powdery mildew)
pedicello pedicel
peduncolo stem (peduncle)
pergola pergola/overhead trellis system
peronospora peronospora (downy mildew)
pied de cuve pied de cuve (native yeast starter)
pigiatura crush/crushing
pirodiserbatore weed torch/weed flamer
pirodiserbo weed torching
pollone sucker
portinnesto rootstock
pressa press
pressare to press
quercia oak
rachide rachis
raspo stem
rimontaggio pumping over
ritocchino vines planted up and down a slope (from peak to valley, as it were; compare with a giropoggio)
sabbia/sabbioso sand/sandy (sandy soil)
Sauvignon (Blanc) Sauvignon Blanc
scacchiatura shoot-thinning
scheletro very fine gravel
seme seed
sfogliatura leaf plucking
sgemmatura disbudding
siccità drought/drought conditions
sistema di allevamento training/trellis system
sottofila under-row
sottosuolo subsoil
sovescio cover crop/green manure
sovramaturazione over-ripening
spalliera (vigneto a spalliera) vertical shoot positioning of the shoots (VSP)
spargolo (grappolo spargolo) loosely clustered (grape bunch)
sperone spur
spollonatura disbudding and suckering/de-suckering
stralciatura shoot-thinning
stress idrico hydric stress
sulle bucce skin contact (macerated on the skins)
sulle fecce nobili lees aged (aged on its lees)
sur lie lees aged (aged on its lees)
svinatura racking (devatting, drawing off)
terreno/terreni soil
tessitura (del suoolo) soil texture
tignola della vite vine moth (Eupoecilia ambiguella) European berry moth
tralcio shoot/cane
tramoggia hopper/feeder
tufo tufaceous subsoil (porous limestone)
vasca vat/tank
vento di maestrale north-westerly wind
vigna/vigne vine/vineyards
vigneto vineyard
vinaccia/vinacce pomace
vinacciolo seed
vino dozzinale plonk
vite vine
viticcio tendril
vitigno grape variety

Why isn’t our national wine media paying attention to Samantha Dugan’s spectacular sparkling wine selection at the Wine Country, Long Beach?

Above: the seemingly endless selection of sparkling wine at the Wine Country in Long Beach, California, where Samantha “Sans Dosage” Dugan has created one of the best programs in the country.

Why our nation’s mainline wine mastheads haven’t paid more attention to Samantha Dugan’s extraordinary sparkling wine selection at the Wine Country in Long Beach, CA has left me nonplussed.

In case you’ve never visited her and her team, that’s just part of the seemingly endless offering of bubbles, above at her shop, a legacy wine merchant in a community where there is a deep appreciation for fine wine, from the everyday to the collectible.

Some of you may remember her from the days of the wine blogging renaissance when she was one of the movement’s highest-profile and respected voices — under the handle “Samantha Sans Dosage.” Times wine writer Eric Asimov was among her biggest fans and she would ultimately be summoned to the Napa Valley wine writers symposium (which is happening this week btw) as a featured speaker, an exemplar among wine blogging paladins.

These days her aphoristic, observational, aesthetic, and philosophical ruminations circulate exclusively on the Facebook but they continue to wield powerfully compelling content, equally humoristic and poignant (and often both).

“We’re somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego,” said her son Jeremy Dugan, who also works at the store as the outpost’s Natural wine slinger. “So no one pays attention to what my mom is doing here.”

Above: the beer selection at the Wine Country is equally impressive. These people CARE about what they do. They want to send you home happy.

Besides being a wonderful and generous friend, Samantha is one of the best tasters in the U.S. right now imho. And her sparkling wine chops, honed over more than a decade at the bubbly wine helm, are the definition of par excellence (look it up in your Webster’s).

I am thrilled to share the news that Samantha, Alicia Lini, and I will be leading a virtual Lambrusco tasting on Friday, May 28, at 5 p.m. PST. You’ll have to visit the store that day to pick up the food and wine. But I’ll also be sharing the link with non-So. Cal. sparkling geeks like me who want to get in on this one.

Just ping me here or wherever if you want me to hook you up with the bubbly good stuff.

Happy Mother’s Day Tracie! You are amazing. I love you.

At the Grand Canyon in 2018.

After Tracie gave birth to our first daughter Georgia in 2011, we agreed that she wouldn’t go back to work. We felt strongly that it was important for the girls to have a stay-at-home parent. My business was growing and we were confident that we could maintain our style of living.

Over the next nine years, work had its ups and downs, as can be expected for a freelance copywriter and translator. But one way or another, we always managed to make it work. And about five years ago, when the girls started to attend a K-12 school, Tracie started a custom cookie business and later began selling skincare products. Her work really helped to make the proverbial ends meet.

In 2019, my business had its best year ever. We were starting to reach some of our financial goals and as fried as I was from a frenetic work pace, we ended the year on a high note, with a little money in the bank and all the bills paid.

Then the pandemic came. Although a handful of my longtime clients stood by me, most simply stopped answering the phone. It was understandable, of course. We were all completely freaking out and no one knew what was going to happen. By the end of the summer, all of our financial progress had been wiped out. Groceries were going on credit cards and I was scrambling to get any work I could.

Tracie and me in the green room at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side where my band last headlined in February 2009. I cherish that picture. Who knew where our lives and marriage would lead? We had Bollinger in our cups and the room was packed that night.

It was then that Tracie quietly but steadily began studying for her realtor license. We paid the fee for the mandatory classes and I took up more of the parenting duties so that she had time to prepare for her exam.

The first week of March, Tracie took the exam and passed. And after countless interviews, she had a position with an old line realty firm here in Houston.

And then something incredible happened. Even though it takes months for most new realtors to start getting listings and making sales, Tracie landed a seven-figure contract as a buyer’s agent by the fourth week in her new job. That was soon followed by her first “listing,” a milestone for anyone starting a new career in realty.

Honestly, none of us — Tracie included — even dreamed that this would happen so fast. We were expecting six months or so to pass before she was fully up and running.

But here we are. From zero to 60 in just a few short weeks, Tracie now makes herself up every morning and heads to the office. And the contracts just keep coming in. And I no longer lose sleep over next month’s rent or electric bill.

Tracie P, you are an amazing woman, mother, wife, best friend, partner, and lover. You are a role model for our daughters and an inspiration to me in my own new career in sales.

People thought I was crazy when I left California for Texas in 2008 (now look at how many Californians are moving to Houston!). None of us could have known the will power and the determination that you would bring to bear as our family’s ship needed to be righted.

I love you and you are an extraordinary human being. And I am the soul who had the extraordinarily good fortune to meet you (through our blogs!), marry you, and be father to your children.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P. Yours is a story of strength, courage, and grit. And our family is only better for it. I love you, gorgeous woman!

Tracie Parzen realtor:

It’s time to change a racially insensitive Italian grape name.

negroamaroAbove: Neramaro grapes ready for harvest in Salento, Puglia. Would anyone really be hurt if the name were changed? There’s no doubt that fewer people would be offended if it were modified or a suitable alternative were available.

The more closely you look at a word, wrote the early 20th-century aphorist Karl Kraus, the more distantly it looks back at you.

This nugget of wisdom couldn’t be more true when it comes to the name of one of Puglia’s most important grape varieties, Negroamaro.

While no one knows its origins for certain, some ampelographers believe that the name is what linguists call a hybrid tautology. In antiquity, it wasn’t uncommon for cities, for example, to be named twice, with part of the name in Latin and part in Greek. The most famous instance of this is the Sicilian town of Linguaglossa, from the Latin lingua (tongue or language) and the Greek γλῶσσα (transliterated glossa, tongue or language). There are a number of cities in Sicily that still have toponyms like this. Scholars suppose that this helped to mitigate confusion among anicent travelers who may have been familiar with one language but not the other.

In the case of the grape name, it’s possible that it comes from the Latin niger (black) and the Greek μαῦρος (transliterated mavros, meaning black). Even today, red grape varieties and red wines are sometimes referred to as “black” in romance languages. Pinot Noir, Nero d’Avola, and Nerello are examples of this. The Latin name in this case, according to the theory, is followed by a corruption of the Greek.

Others take the meaning of the ampelonym at face value. They believe the name means bitter black, from the Italian negro (an archaic form of the modern-day Italian nero) and the Italian amaro, meaning bitter or sour. As evidence of this theory, they point to the popular Greek grape variety Ξινόμαυρο (transliterated Xinomavro) from the Greek ξινό (transliterated xinó) meaning bitter or sour and μαῦρος (mavros) meaning black (as above).

In antiquity grapes were mostly vinified as sweet wines, with high residual sugar. It’s plausible that as tastes began to shift to drier wines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a grape name like bitter black may have been an indication of the variety’s flavor when vinified in an unsweet style.

Whether “bitter black” or “black black” the ampelonym’s semantic evolution took an unexpected turn when Negroamaro began to become popular among Italian wine lovers in the U.S.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, American wine influencers, including media and wine trade members, began to shift their focus from international grape varieties to highly localized varieties. It was only natural that interest in grapes like Negroamaro, which is grown nearly exclusively in Puglia’s Salento peninsula, would expand. And that’s exactly what happened. This once little-known variety, which produces value-driven high-quality wine, is now a favorite of sommeliers. They love it because the grape’s classic meaty character and its vibrant acidity make it a favorite of California Cabernet Sauvignon lovers.

With this heightened interest, an unfortunate linguistic impropriety also emerged. And it’s had a substantively undesirable impact on the way the grape variety and the people who grow it are perceived.

Understandably, the name of the grape is highly offensive to Black wine enthusiasts.

It’s important to note that negro in this case is what linguists call a “false friend”: To someone not familiar with romance languages, it sounds like a racist slur.

But there’s absolutely no way to mitigate the grape name’s injuriousness.

It was October 2017 when my close friend and longtime client Paolo Cantele presented his family’s wines at a wine dinner in Houston where I live. Roughly half the guests were Black. I’ll never forget the look I got when I presented the wine to two Black couples sitting together at the same table. When I mentioned the grape name, one of the women looked up at me in disbelief. What was that I heard you just say? she noted incredulously. I apologized and gently told her that the grape name came from the Latin word for black. She seemed satisfied with my response and I believe it was abundantly clear to everyone at the table that I wasn’t using a racial slur. But there was no avoiding the unspoken, however unintended, offense that had taken place. To this day, I feel terrible about that episode.

“When I present our wines in the U.S.,” Paolo told me later, I use Neramaro” instead of the historic ampelonym. His neologism, he said, was his own invention. It’s not an officially recognized designation, nor is it in common use among Pugliese producers. To my knowledge, he’s the only person who uses it — besides me.

Some of my fellow wine professionals will counter that the grape name is part of a viticultural tradition that would be diminished by a “politically correct” name change. Why, they might ask, should Salento growers be forced to “give in” to a cultural trend that has nothing to do with Salento winemaking? My answer to them is that we’ve reached a tipping point where it has become socially irresponsible and morally reprehensible to ignore the impact that the name has on an entire demographic — not just in the U.S. but in Europe as well.

There have been numerous cases in Italian wine where appellations have changed the names of grapes, although not for socially sensitive reasons.

Prosecco was changed to Glera in the hope that it would elevate the wine’s brand recognition (the jury’s still out on whether it has or not). Tocai Friulano was changed to Friulano after the EU ruled in favor of Tokay producers who claimed trademark infringement (sales grew in the wake of the change). Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was changed to Nobile in the hope that it would help Americans with pronunciation (it didn’t).

If Europeans can be compelled to change a grape name for commercial and juridical reasons, how can we ignore the negative fallout that our now-in-vogue Salento variety has had consumers, trade members, and influencers who are deeply and rightly aggrieved by its name?

It’s not a “fault” that the West’s viticultural tradition has produced a grape name that encroaches on the dignity of countless wine lovers. But it is our shortcoming that we have failed to take action to remedy this aberration.

The farther back we look at a word, the more closely it looks back at us. As we look forward toward the future of Italian wine in the U.S., we need to muster the moral strength and civic courage to make these excellent wines palatable to all gradations of humanity — and not just our own.

Taste with the über-hip Cristiano Garella and me this Thursday in Houston at Roma.

Above: vineyards on the Frecciarossa estate in Oltrepò Pavese (image via the winery’s website).

Not a lot of Italian wine people in the U.S. know the Frecciarossa winery in Oltrepò Pavese. But in Italy it’s considered one of the country’s top growers of Pinot Noir and producer of one of its benchmark classic method wines (even the Franciacortini agree, however begrudgingly).

Even fewer know that Cristiano Garella has been quietly making wine for Frecciarossa for some time now. He’s the young breakout winemaker who put Alto Piemonte on everyone’s lips in our country. As far as I know, Frecciarossa is the only winery that he consults with beyond his now legendary, although only a decade old, Colombera e Garella estate.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Cristiano (a lovely guy, btw) to our weekly virtual wine dinner at Roma in Thursday this Thursday. He is one of Italy’s most exciting winemakers and one of the driving forces behind the New Wave of Nebbiolo that’s coming from northern Piedmont.

We will be tasting three wines from Frecciarossa with him: a classic still Pinot Noir and a still Uva Rara. The third, you ask? If the Uva Rara weren’t enough to get the true wine geeks out for this one, the third wine will surely pique their interest: a still white — yes, a white! — Pinot Noir vinified “off its skins.” If that doesn’t excite the wine nerds, I don’t know what will!

We still don’t have the menu in place for this week’s event. But the cost will be $119 plus tax and gratuity for a three-course meal and the three bottles of wine (the same price as every week since we began doing these dinners in late April 2020).

Please just send me an email if you’d like to join. Can you tell I’m pumped for this one? I’m SUPER geeked to taste these wines with the dude who made them. And I’m hoping to get to taste these stunning wines with you. Thanks for all your support with these dinners over the last 12 months.

Coat of many colors: myriad shades of natural wine in southern California.

Above: the excellent selection at Vino Carta in San Diego isn’t exclusively natural. It mingles the classic and iconic of European wine with the more crunchy stuff.

A trip to southern California has been a real stroll down memory lane.

It has made for remembrances not of a time before the time we live in now. But stretching back to the time when a native California and lapsed New Yorker headed back to their home state in search of a new beginning. The year was 2007 and Alice Feiring had yet to publish her watershed tome The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.

Back then, “natural wine” was a locution bandied about jealously by just a handful of wine importers and distributors. It was still a club to which you were admitted or excluded. With no official or widely accepted definition, it was an ideal, a Platonic one at that, a world view, a loosely circumscript attitude object toward winemaking and wine consumption.

Above: the Wine Country in Long Beach recently added a “Natural Wine Center” and now has a natural wine-focused buyer.

Today, nearly a decade and a half later, natural wine is indelibly woven into the fabric of the southern California viticultural landscape. And it’s blessedly no longer ghettoized within the wine industry’s sometimes heartless hegemony.

Back in 2007 as the financial crisis loomed and the forever warriors soldiered onward, it would have been inconceivable to think that a place like Vino Carta could exist in the wine dessert once known as San Diego.

When a wine trade observer commented on the shop and wine bar’s novelty in a city where jammy oaky Zinfandel once drove the vinous discourse, owner Patrick Ballow nodded in agreement. It was a still bold move to open a natural-focused retail and by-the-glass program in San Diego in 2016. But today, as the city begins to open up again, Patrick’s business is vibrant and engaged with its community.

Above: Lou Amdur opened his groundbreaking Lou wine bar in Hollywood in 2005, long before the expression “natural wine” graced the lips of the proletariat. Today, his wine shop in Los Feliz is a hallowed outpost for the natural wine traveler.

Where Vino Carta bemingles its natural and classic wine selections, the Wine Country in Long Beach (an amazing store and deserving of our attention in so many important ways) now has its own “Natural Wine Center” and natural wine-focused buyer. Would we have been able to imagine such a conjugation in the now fuzzy and distant 2007?

Of course, no natural wine tour of southern California would be complete without at least a one-night stand (or better a three-dog night) at Lou, the southland’s earliest outpost of natural wine. Where else in the world can you walk up to a wine shop’s pandemic-era kiosk and be handsomely rewarded by a cornucopia of wines after asking for something white, oxidative, and perhaps macerated?

In the mind of said traveler, the exclusively natural Lou seemed to close the circle: an entirely natural selection, a co-mingled natural selection, and a sui generis natural selection.

A coat of many colors to warm a weary but newly heartened wine journeyperson on a cool and overcast day in otherwise sunny southern California.

Pete Wells gets the Tex but not the Mex. What the American intelligentsia gets wrong about Texans, our culture, and how and what we eat.

Even some of the most informed food writers don’t realize that what they call “fajitas,” the cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine, has its origins in Mexico’s discada cooking culture. That’s the carne asada plate, yesterday, at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, Taqueria El Sole de Mexico #2.

“Tex-Mex is probably the least respected of America’s regional cuisines,” wrote venerated Times food and restaurant critic Pete Wells in the paper this week. “In part this is because, like some Texas politicians, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny once it leaves the state.”

His uninformed, puerile mockery reminded me of something one of my close California family members said to me contemptuously after I had moved to Texas to be with Tracie.

“How can you live there,” they asked, “with all those awful people?”

I wonder how many Texan politicians Mr. Wells or my relative can name beyond Ted C. Maybe Ken P.? Beto, of course. But without resorting to a Google search, can they name one Black politician from Texas? Beyond Ted C. and maybe Julian C., do they know the name of any other Brown Texas politician?

And that’s what Wells and my relative all get wrong about Texans and our culture.

(In all fairness to Mr. Wells, he has famously, although perhaps disingenuously, written that he “likes” Texans.)

No English is spoke at my favorite Tex-Mex place, where “fajitas” are the number-one menu entry. You can also order a burrito smothered in queso. It’s as Tex-Mex as you can get.

I would have never said this to my relative (and luckily neither they nor their spouse read my blog!) but I would have liked to ask them: beyond all the “awful” White people you think you know from Texas, what about the Brown and Black people? Are they awful, too?

And that’s where the American intelligentsia gets it dead wrong.

Yes, there are a lot of “awful” White people in Texas who have disenfranchised Black and Brown people for generations. And those same awful White people continue to suppress the voice of Black and Brown people at the voting box and they continue — less successfully in recent years — to segregate Texans. But that’s because those awful White people are still in power, as anyone who reads the Times surely knows.

And here’s where the Tex-Mex analogy comes into play. The only Tex-Mex that Wells knows is the “White Tex-Mex” of big box players like Chuy’s and Pappasitos and the faux Tex-Mex that New Yorkers eat. He gets the Tex but he doesn’t get the Mex.

Tex-Mex didn’t originate in European cookery. It’s actually Brown-people cuisine that has been contaminated by White gastronomic traditions.

Case in point: fajitas.

Even Wells will agree that the griddle-fired, intensely seasoned meats are the cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine. And he shouldn’t be surprised to learn that their origin lies in the discada cooking of the Mexican — not Texan — countryside.

Earlier this month, I interviewed Chef Luis Jiménez de S. whose cloud kitchen brand Bell Pepper Fajitas is debuting in Houston in a few weeks (I was writing a press release for his PR firm). His group is based in Del Rio on the Tex-Mex border. But Chef Luis had joined our call from Mexico where he lives and cooks — you guessed it — Tex-Mex!

We spoke at length about the origins of Tex-Mex and how it is a reflection of classic Mexican cuisine. He was keen to talk about its farming-community and family-friendly character, two elements that inform his menus for Bell Pepper Fajitas and his other immensely popular concept, Amacate.

I remembered our conversation as I dug into my carne asada yesterday at Taqueria El Sol de Mexico #2, which is located in a Tex-Mex row in a Spanish-speaking Houston neighborhood not far from our house. There are roughly 20 similar restaurants along a mile-long stretch of road. I haven’t visited them all but based on my past experiences, fajitas and queso — another pillar of the Tex-Mex canon — are on the menu at most of them.

I took a look around. There were no Texas politicians there (I know where Ted C. eats in Houston btw but that’s another story for another time). There were no awful White people there either. There were no White people there at all.

Just a bunch of Texans enjoying lunch on a beautiful spring day in Houston, the ranchera music blasting away.

Do Bianchi Natural Italian wholesale and retail launches in California.

Above: Fabrizio Iuli’s wines are the centerpiece of the new book I’m repping in California.

Tracie and I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce our newest venture: Do Bianchi Natural Italian wholesale and retail wine sales in my home state of California.

The idea for the new business was actually born many moons ago.

After I became an adjunct instructor at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Roero, Piedmont in 2016, I began making a yearly pilgrimage to the Iuli farm in nearby Monferrato. Years earlier in New York, our mutual friend (and one of my best friends) Franciacorta winemaker Giovanni Arcari had introduced me to Summer Wolff, Fabrizio Iuli’s life and business partner. And so it was only natural that I would occasionally find myself at their dinner table.

To call it a mere “dinner table” is a misnomer: their home is more like a between-the-wars salon where Italian winemakers and intellectuals gather for passionate confabulationes and tastings.

Above: I received my first pallet of wine from Hootananny a few weeks ago at my warehouse in California.

Last year, while we were all locked down on both sides of the Atlantic, Summer reached out to me and asked me if I’d like to represent her new Connecticut-based importing company Hootananny in California.

Not only did I grow up and go to school there. I also ran a wine program in Los Angeles for eight years. And before 2020, I spent three years working as a senior editor for the Slow Wine guide to California. We agreed it was an organic (excuse the pun) fit.

But more than anything else, it just felt “right.” I have always loved Fabrizio’s wines and the whole spirit and ethos that surround their farm and their way of life.

Above: La Jolla, California where I grew up. It’s been great to spend more time there with my family and friends.

Of course, Iuli is just one of the farms in Summer’s superb book. You can browse her entire portfolio here.

Other personal highlights include Arcari + Danesi (my friend Giovanni and Nico’s winery in Franciacorta), Le Due Terre in Friuli (an icon), Aurora in the Marches (a favorite of mine), Vignale di Cecilia (by my friend Paolo Brunello, an Euganean estate you need to know), and many other family-run farms that align with the natural wine movement. And there’s more to come.

Currently, I don’t have a ton of wine available in California but I am doing tasting appointments and dropping off samples next week in San Diego and Los Angeles. In May, I’ll be visiting the Bay Area and northern California wine country.

Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to taste with me or receive samples. And in a few months, I’ll begin doing retail offerings as well (similar to my wine club from many years ago).

Above: my new logo! “Do Bianchi” (pronounced DOH BEE’AHN-kee) means “two white wines” in Venetian dialect. I used it as a pseudonym many years ago, inspired by the legend that Mark Twain’s name meant “two whiskeys.” If you walk into a tavern in Venice (or nearly anywhere in Veneto) and ask for “do bianchi,” the barkeep will pour you two glasses of white wine.

Thanks for your support and solidarity. The new project is not the only big news from the Parzen family this season and it’s not the only way we are supporting our family. After nearly 10 years as a stay-at-home mom who ran a custom cookie business from our home and sold skincare products, Tracie (left, in her official photo!) is now back to work full-time as a realtor. She’s working for one of Houston’s old line firms, Greenwood King (see her page on their site here). She’s already made a big sale and has her first listing after just a month. It’s fantastic and she is amazing. Moving to Houston? Tracie’s the realtor you need to know! And I have some more super big news that I won’t be able to share until early June. It’s Houston-centric and I know it’s going to be really exciting. Stay tuned and thanks for being here.