Hearts, thoughts, and prayers for Orlando

Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out this morning to the victims in yesterday’s shooting in Orlando and their families.

The senselessness of this wanton violence is almost impossible to fathom. But it is tragically real.

I remember all too well being a high school student in San Diego, California when the San Ysidro massacre happened (not far from where I grew up). In its reporting today, the New York Times cited that shooting as the first “mass shooting” in our country.

More than 30 years later, the haggard nature of yesterday’s attack is just as hard to comprehend as it was when I was a teenager. But today, our improbable attempts to understand it are fraught with ideological and political under- and overtones.

Now more than ever, we must look to our humanity and our faith as we try to wrap our minds around such darkness.

G-d bless the victims and their families and G-d bless America.

“Brunello is gas!” F.T. Marinetti’s clairvoyance (and Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s brilliant blog post)

mussolini wine favorite 1933In August of 1933, Hitler had been in power for less than a year and Mussolini’s grip had been bolstered in the nearly 11 years since the Fascists’ March on Rome.

Two years later, the Italian dictator would launch the second Italo-Ethiopian war and Hitler would introduce the Nuremberg Laws. The Second World War was already on the horizon.

In August of 1933, Italy heralded the modern era of wine marketing with an exhibition of top Italian wines in Siena, a stone’s throw from Montalcino.

The slogan of the wine fair had been penned by the founder of the Futurist party — the poet, essayist, and critical theorist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

Brunello è benzina!

Brunello is gas! it rang.

Marinetti and the Futurists were obsessed with the notion of velocità (velocity) and the newly born age of gas-powered automobiles and airplanes.

To the ears of his compatriots, the motto was an unmitigated endorsement of Brunello as an expression of the new italianità, a word that is often misunderstood and misused today. At the time, it didn’t just denote Italian identity. It stood for the renewed Italian identity and for Italy’s intellectual, artistic, and political resurgence as an imperial and colonial power.

All of these thoughts and images have been brimming in my mind after translating my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s brilliant post on the 1933 wine fair and the role it played in the evolution of Brunello’s own rise.

I highly recommend it to you and I know you will find it as thought-provoking as I did (especially the anecdote about Tancredi Biondi Santi).

And for Italian speakers, the post appeared in the original today on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

So many thoughts but so little time today.

Buona lettura e buon weekend. Enjoy Stefano’s post and have a great weekend. Thanks for being here.

López de Heredia? YMMV but isn’t that what it’s all about?

Lopez de HerediaWhen cousin Jonathan and I landed at Vera in Chicago on Tuesday night, I had swore to myself that we wouldn’t drink López de Heredia. After all, there are so many great lots on this iconic Spanish list and López de Heredia is a wine that I’ve been following and have known well for many years now. Why not expand my knowledge of Spanish wines at one of the best venues in the U.S. to do so?

But when our server revealed the pricing, it was just too tempting to resist.

The 2001 Viña Tondonia Reserva (above) rewarded us with one of the best bottles of López de Heredia that I have ever enjoyed — if not the best.

The fruit in this fifteen-year-old bottling delivered zinging white and stone fruit flavors. But the thing that really blew me away was that the fruit aromas were so nimble that they gently eclipsed the oxidative character of the wine.

Man, what a wine!

pork skewer recipeWhen our server shared the excellent price of the 2000 Rosado (which is not on the list; you have to ask for it), how could we say no at that point?

Here the fruit was equally vibrant (juicy ripe red) but there was a note of funk on the nose that simply refused to go away as the wine aerated in our glasses and the open bottle.

I was reminded of something that Giuseppe Rinaldi (the great natural winemaker and advocate and producer of some of the world’s great wines) said this year at the Vini Veri fair in April.

“Industrial wine, if you can call it wine,” he told a group gathered for a vertical tasting of Barbacarlo, “needs to be perfect. It needs to be precise, exactly the same every time. A natural wine, by definition, will have imperfections.”

As Jonathan and I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of our “imperfect” wine, I couldn’t help but think of how “perfect” our experience.

With the first bottle, it felt like it had been opened for us at exactly the right moment in its evolution. With the second, as much as we loved it, we were reminded of nature’s “imperfection.”

And isn’t that what is so thrilling about natural wine? To me it’s the knowledge that you are consuming a living wine with all the joys and disappointments that life brings with it. I love those wines the way I love my wife and my family and my closest friends — warts and all.

To live in a world filled only by perfection would be no life at all.

It was a great night at Vera and it was also lovely to meet the new wine director there, Christy Fuhrman. I’ll be curious to see the direction where she will take this iconic list the next time I visit.

Huge thanks to Christy and the staff at Vera and to López de Heredia for an unforgettable evening and dinner.

Why I am voting for Clinton and why Trump is a fascist

peter blume artistAbove: detail from “Eternal City,” oil on composition board by Peter Blume, American, 1934-37.

The arc of presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party Hillary Clinton’s life and career has been marked by extraordinary achievement in public service and for public good.

As civil rights activist, first lady, senator, and secretary of state, she has consistently embraced and advocated for progressive, forward-looking policies that make our country a stronger and more just nation.

Her presumptive nomination is a historic moment for the American people: eight years after the election of Barack Obama, the first black president of the U.S.A., her now inevitable victory in the democratic primary represents a milestone in women’s and human rights that was unimaginable when she began her work as a young person. With her candidacy, again, America has given the world a new model and benchmark for inclusiveness and equal rights.

While there are many immensely skilled politicians in the U.S. who could have a risen to the challenge of becoming our country’s next president, she is the one who stood up for her party, stood by her beliefs and values, and earned the opportunity to run. Her credentials and qualifications are virtually peerless and she is the best prepared and most suited person to lead our nation forward.

With his overtly racist attitudes and his ill-conceived, uninformed, and perilous political platform, Donald Trump has already driven our country backward.
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Chicago photo essay

I was born in this beautiful troubled city and I love visiting here. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the Franciacorta tasting such a great experience. Here are some snaps…

millennium park beanMillennium Park

chicago art instituteArt Institute of Chicago

chicago cultural centerChicago Cultural Center

best hotdog chicagoChar dog

Six glasses stood between him and his Master Sommelier title

master sommelier texas david keckAbove: Newly minted Master Sommelier recounts the tense moments as he and 62 other candidates awaited the results of their examinations in Aspen last month.

Just a few years ago, even as its visibility had grown considerably, the Court of Master Sommeliers received only a sliver of the number of applications it receives today. The last time I asked, more than 600 people had applied to join its ranks in one year alone. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that there are only 237 Master Sommmeliers (including David) worldwide. And that’s also a lot of disappointment. Only a handful of candidates will pass the grueling examinations: theory (probably the toughest), wine service, and the dreaded blind tasting, where candidates must correctly identify at least five of six wines.

Last week I sat down with newly minted Master Sommelier David Keck of Houston (above). Happily for his and my adoptive city, he returned victorious from the Aspen exams in May. But he was one of just three new Master Sommeliers in a group of 63 who had been seated for the tests.

In my post today for the Houston Press, I share a little bit of his experience waiting to find out his results in blind tasting.

In other news…

Have you ever wondered why so many wines from Piedmont are called bricco this and bricco that?

I wrote a post (of which I am particularly proud) on the origins and usage of the term last week for the Tenuta Carretta blog.

And in case you’ve been pondering Arneis lately, check out this post I translated for the nice folks (and my clients) at Carretta.

In other other news…

I’ll be moderating a panel and attending a luncheon at the Wine and Food Festival in the Woodlands (Houston) on Friday. I believe there are still seats available. So please join me for some day drinking if you are so inclined.

Right now I’m on a plane heading to Chicago where I’ll be leading a standing-room-only guided tasting of Franciacorta at Perman Wine Selections. Apologies to all who couldn’t get in and thanks to all the wine professionals who will be coming.

Man, it was tough to say goodbye to our girls and Tracie P this morning after a super fun weekend of carousel rides, giraffes and zebras, dinosaurs, and French fries and milkshakes. But hey, someone’s got to pay the bills… See you on the other side…

parzen daughters

Sauvignon scandal in Friuli? Much ado about nothing: no charges filed against any winemakers implicated in inquiry

natisone river friuliAbove: the Natisone river runs through Frliulian wine country.

They actually knew it was coming.

More than a year before the media-dubbed “Sauvignon connection” scandal appeared in the local press, Friulian producers of Sauvignon Blanc were aware that authorities were scrutinizing their production.

According to the agricultural superintendent for Friuli at the time, Vannia Gava (a vocal member of the separatist Northern League political party), winemakers from her region were doctoring their wines to give them aromas that didn’t align with the classic profile of Sauvignon Blanc grown there.

“It seems,” said Gava in an interview published by the Messaggero Veneto in May 2014, “that certain well-known Friulian wineries are using additives, preservatives, and chemical perfumes, some of which are carcinogenic. They are added during bottling, especially when it comes to Sauvignon [Blanc].”

More than a year later, in September 2015, the Friulian mainstream media reported that authorities had raided a number of high-profile Friulian wineries and confiscated wines and winemaking materials. According to the report, officials accused the winemakers of using unauthorized additives that would enhance the wines’ aromas.

cristian specognaAbove: Cristian Specogna, one of Friuli’s leading and most respected producers of Sauvingon Blanc. Investigators’ lab results found that he uses native yeasts to ferment his wines.

Today, more nine months after anti-adulteration agents’ raids, no charges have been filed against any of the alleged wrongdoers.

And the lab results show that no unauthorized enzymes or cultured yeasts were found in the wines seized and tested by authorities.

I’ve seen the report myself.

When I visited Friuli in early May, I had the opportunity to meet and discuss the ongoing episode with three winemakers there — two who were not implicated in the controversy and one who was.

All three told me that they are confident that no charges will be filed. And all concurred that winemakers implicated in the inquiry are now stuck in a bureaucratic limbo: there is no word as to when officials will clear their names.

It’s not my place to speculate as to what prompted authorities to launch the investigation. But I know for a fact that they acted aggressively, descending on the accused winemakers’ facilities in great numbers and with a significant show of force. And prior to the raids, officials had tapped the winemakers’ phones.

In at least one case, a Sauvignon Blanc producer was forced to appear at his son’s school in the custody of Carabinieri (the Italian paramilitary police). As for all of the producers implicated in the investigation, wines by that winemaker were shown not to contain any unauthorized additives.

One of the winemakers I met with in May pointed out to me that there exists no list of unauthorized yeasts for the production of Friulian Sauvignon Blanc. In other words, even if authorities had discovered that selected yeasts were being used to give the wines aromas that didn’t align with sanctioned varietal expressiveness, there would be no legal basis to charge the winemakers accused of wrongdoing.

In the end, it was all much ado about nothing. Yet neither authorities nor local media have moved to share investigators’ findings.

What to make of all of this?

In the short-term, the authorities’ aggressive and misguided attitude and media’s blood thirst for clicks have gravely damaged the Friulian “wine brand.” When in Venice last month, a prominent sommelier told me that he “prefers the reds” of one the winemakers implicated in the inquiry.

In the long-term, I know that the industrious and earnest winemakers of Friuli will recover from the blow. It will take time but I believe the excellent wines they make there deserve our attention and our respect.

And I encourage you to seek them out.

Thanks for reading…

Prosecco-flavored soda? It’s gone too far…

prosecco flavored soda HEB central marketAt a recent dinner at his excellent restaurant Frasca in Udine province (Friuli), Valter Scarbolo treated a group of American interior designers and publishers to a vertical tasting of his Pinot Grigio.

It was incredible to see the looks on their faces as they tasted through the wines (stretching back to the mid-00s): however sophisticated and worldly this group of high-end travelers, none had ever experienced Pinot Grigio beyond the commercially produced brands that line the shelves of America’s supermarkets (you know the usual suspects).

I was reminded of this marvelous scene yesterday when one of Houston’s leading wine professionals and italophile wine lovers posted the photo, above, of “Prosecco-flavored” soda yesterday on his Facebook.

Like Valter’s guests, my Houston-based colleague’s reaction was that of astonishment, although in this case, the surprise was inverted.

“Words fail me,” he wrote in the caption.

He couldn’t have had a more apt response (in my view). His words echo a classic Veneto dialectal expression: no go paroe (non ho parole in Italian), in other words, I have no words.

Apropos for the very reason that my Veneto fellows will surely utter the same when they learn of the existence of Prosecco-flavored soda. After all, Prosecco isn’t just a favorite wine of Venetians and the Veneti: it is a synecdoche for the Veneto people.

Like Pinot Grigio, Prosecco has transcended its origins to become an über-brand in the U.S. and the greater anglophone world. Transcendence might imply amelioration, depending on your point of view (not mine). But anyone who’s ever tasted traditional-style Prosecco will surely recognize the disconnect between the citrus, salty, and slightly bitter flavors of wines made from Glera (formerly known as Prosecco) grapes and the notion of sweet-tasting Prosecco soda.

They say that in antiquity amphoras were filled with marzipan before they were shipped from the Middle East to the West in order to protect the earthenware vessels from breaking. According to the legend, by the time they would arrive, the recipients would mistake the contents for the container. The sweet paste, they believed, was the conveyed and not the conveyer.

When wines and wine brands travel across that vast misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean, their continuity with their origins is often diminished.

But “Prosecco-flavored Italian organic soda”?

As an adoptive Texan and a lover of our HEB and Central Market stores, it pains me to write that it’s gone too far.

I can’t imagine what it tastes like and I have no intention of ever drawing this beverage to my lips. But I seriously doubt that it tastes like Prosecco or anything even vaguely reminiscent of Glera that has been transformed into wine. And more importantly, why and how on earth did someone conceive of a soda that “tastes like” wine? I could write a dissertation on the wrong contained therein.

No, as much as I love the HEB where Tracie P and I shop nearly every day, this screaming lack of enogastronomic responsibility runs counter to a corporate ethos that purports, ostensibly, to nourish my community.

In fact, this colonization rape of Italian viticulture egregiously harms our community by propagating mis- and disinformation.

I, who stand atop a Prosecco grape harvest crate, cannot stand for this.

And so, I implore you, o readers of this blog: do not buy or consume Central Market’s Prosecco-flavored Italian organic soda.

(But if you’re reading this, you probably wouldn’t drink it anyway.)

Suffer from Jewish Boy Stomach? Eat at Moruno in Los Angeles (and thanks to Sotto team and guests)

david rosoff restaurant los angelesEvery time Sotto brings me to Los Angeles to work on our wine list, general manager Christine Veys and I try to break away to check out one of the new restaurants on LA’s vibrant food scene.

On Tuesday evening, after tasting roughly 30 wines with 6 different sales reps, we headed to my friend David Rosoff’s newly opened Moruno in the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market (a haunt of my youth).

That’s the absolutely delicious albacore tuna conserva in the photo above.

The menu is inspired by Spanish and Middle Eastern cookery and is delivered mostly in small plates and on skewers (as David put it, a moruno is “meat on a stick”).

We had a wide variety of dishes, including the roast butternut squash topped with cashews and sesame seeds, one of the guests’ and staff’s favorites, David said.

And of course, we sampled both the chicken and lamb morunos.

what is a morunoEverything was truly fantastic and it was great to see his energetic team working in the kitchen with such focused skill and decisive sense of mission.

But the thing that really blew me away about the experience was how good I felt the next day (sparing you the details, I’ll presume you know what I mean).

Whenever I travel for my work (and this year, I already have four trips to Italy and visits to New York, Miami, Santa Barbara, Boston, and LA under my belt), one of the greatest challenges I face is the combination of fatigue and distressed digestion (I’ll leave it at that).

best spanish wineEven though Christine and I really dug into our meal with gusto at Moruno, my “day after” was bright and sunny, as it were.

Maybe it was thanks to the superb Grenache Blanc by Cellar Frisach from southern Spain that made the difference. Zinging acidity in this hillside wine from the high lands, vibrant fruit and great balance, with restrained alcohol. I really dug it, especially at just $45 a bottle.

David, from one Jew to another, I LOVE your restaurant. The ultimate mark of a great meal is how you feel the next day and man, I woke up ready to go… as it were…

In other news…

My goodness, what a lovely night at Sotto last night where we launched our new wine list with a guided tasting of five new wines by-the-glass!

I can’t tell you how many times I lead tastings where guests show up only wanting to tell me about how they once visited Gaja.

Last night’s group was one of the best and most fun that I’ve ever tasted with: a very gracious ensemble of wine lovers who asked informed questions and shared thoughtful impressions of the wines. Thank you, everyone, for joining me.

And super heartfelt thanks to Christine for being such a great friend and colleague and for believing in my crazy reboot of our list (which I love).

And I also have to give a shout-out to my Texas family who surprised me by showing up at the tasting unannounced and staying for dinner. It was so fun to connect with them in LA and wonderful to know that I have family that supports me in what I do for a living. What a thrill for me to see Aunt Gladys enjoying my wine selections!

Now it’s time to get my butt back on a plane for Houston and some much needed downtime with Tra and the girls… Thanks for being here.