At A16 in SF, the battle of the volcanoes rages…

cantine-del-notaioWhat a great night and dinner at A16 yesterday!

Between the Cantine del Notaio dinner/tasting and Benanti dinner/tasting, there was a WHOLE lot of great wine being poured. I LOVED the rosé from Aglianico that the folks from Cantine del Notaio poured my table (above).

And I loved what manager Patti Robison told me: “It’s the battle of the volcanoes,” she said giddily, referring to the volcanic soils of Mt. Vulture (Notaio) and Mt. Etna (Benanti).

I’ve never had a bad meal at A16 but last night’s dinner was really outta sight, especially the acqua pazza seafood medley, which went great with the rosé. Those are the pumpkin gnocchi below, also delicious and light on the palate.

How many years has A16 been open? I’ve never seen it anything less than completely packed and I’ve never seen the staff skip a beat — ever. What a great place… and it just keeps getting better.

Thank you, Shelley and Patti, for everything you do for Italian wine. Last night was just super!

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RossoBlu, the new LA restaurant where I’ll be writing the wine list, coming online, and a meeting with an Italian wine hero…

rossoblu-new-restaurants-los-angeles-laPosting in a hurry this morning as I board a flight from LAX to Oakland. I’m heading to the Bay Area to attend the Slow Wine tasting there today and to catch up with my SF wine peeps.

That’s a shot (above) of the facade at RossoBlu, the new downtown LA restaurant where I’ll be co-authoring the wine list this spring. The list will be pan-Italian with a focus on Lambrusco and Italian sparkling. So psyched for that.

rossoblu-interior-photography-photographIt was really exciting to tour the new space yesterday and see the progress they’ve made on the buildout. Things are on a fast-track now as we are preparing for a March launch of the restaurant.

That’s a shot of downtown LA (below) that I took from the second floor of the building where a high-profile film production company is going to build an screening room and small studio. Cool, right?

downtown-los-angelesChef Steve, it’s so exciting to be part of this project and dream of yours. How many years have we been talking about this? 20+? Thanks for making me part of it.

In other news…

I finally had the chance to break bread with one of my Italian wine heroes, importer and arbiter of Italian wines Brian Larky (below, left), founder and owner of Dalla Terra. We shared a great dinner last night with chef Steve at Sotto (Steve’s ode to southern Italian cookery where I wrote the original wine list and where I still consult on the wine program, now in its sixth year).

Brian is a pioneer and a visionary of Italian wine in the U.S. and he’s also one of the coolest people I’ve ever met in the trade. A “real human being,” a mensch as we say in Jewish. In a business where there are so many egomaniacal jerks (sad but true), it’s so great to meet someone of his stature and station and learn what a wonderful, warm and lovely person he is.

Brian, thank you for coming to meet us at Sotto last night and the spectacular wines you shared (Selvapiana 1990! Holy cow!). And thank you for everything that you have done and do for Italian wine. I’m so glad we all made time for that and can’t wait for the next glass we share…

Now it’s time to get my but on another plane! Wish me speed.

brian-larky

Bentornato Brunello: the Brunello vintage debut event returned to Houston last week

best-brunello-tastingWhen I moved to Texas more than eight years ago, I never would have imagined that Houston would become a hub for the fine wine trade. But less than a decade later, the city has established itself as one of our country’s top destinations for fine wine events.

The allure of Houston was on display last week when nearly 50 Brunello producers gathered in downtown Houston for Benvenuto Brunello (Welcome Brunello), the annual tasting of their new releases. The event should have been dubbed bentornato Brunello or welcome back Brunello: it was the second time in four years that the organizers brought the traveling show to the Bayou City.

Here’s my coverage of the event today for the Houston Press.

One of the things that struck me about the seminar and tasting was how much great wine is produced in Montalcino and how many estates remain undiscovered by the general wine media and consumers at large.

Wines from estates Paradisone Colle degli Angeli, Sassodisole, and Corte dei Venti were all great discoveries for me (the old-school Sassodisole in particular).

Thank you, Brunello, for coming back to our city. I know that the standing-room-only crowd at the seminar was well worth the trip.

Trump America the day after: the women’s march in Austin

austin-women-womens-march-trumpIn the wake of Trump’s election, Tracie P and I begin planning our trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Women’s March with our girls.

We had even lined up a place to stay, with friends in Bethesda. But when someone fired a gun at a favorite pizzeria in their neighborhood (claiming he was investigating a Clinton conspiracy theory), we decided that the potential for violence was too great. We agreed that I would stay home with the girls and that Tracie would attend the march in Austin, the Texas capital.

That’s Tracie above (in the back row, more or less in the center, green sign in hand) with her group of friends and comrades who marched yesterday in Austin.

According to the Austin American-Statesman (the paper of record) and the Austin police department, up to 50,000 persons attended the march. According to the Washington Post, more than one million persons attended the marches in the nation’s capital. One of them was our Houston cousin Dana.

Since the election in November, Tracie has organized a women’s activist group that meets regularly in our home. She has visited both U.S. senator Ted Cruz’s and senator John Cornyn’s office to protest Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (a core issue for us). Last Sunday we, including the girls, attended a rally led by U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to protest the ACA’s dismantling by republicans as well (below).

In the light of Trump’s campaign platform, I still can’t wrap my mind around the incongruous fact that Evangelical Christians supported Trump in the election in such great numbers. Recently, I’ve taken to studying the Christian Bible to get a greater understanding of their reasoning. The following passage, from the Epistle of Saint James, sticks out in my mind:

Come now, you rich people… Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

G-d bless America. I will continue to write about Trump America here on the blog and I’ll continue to post updates on our family’s efforts to raise awareness of issues faced by the disenfranchised among us.

sheila-jackson-office-houston

Vietti 2012 Barolo Castiglione was the wine of the night…

luca-curradoWhat a great evening with Luca Currado (above) and a superb flight of his wines last night at Tony’s in Houston! (I’m Tony’s media director.)

The 2010 Barbaresco Masseria was definitely one of the highlights of the flight and was already showing an elegant balance of fruit and earth flavors.

The 2013 Barbera d’Alba Scarrone was also drinking great but, man, that wine, from a great vintage, has so many years ahead of it!

I’d never heard Luca tell the story of how he planted those vineyards to the surprise and chagrin of his father. He had the guests in the palm of his hand as he recounted the tale… He’s such a natural when it comes to the art of enological narrative.

barolo-castiglioneBut it was the 2012 Barolo Castiglione that really sang in the glass, with full-throated fruit and umami flavors playing against each other in counterpoint. The Barolo Brunate was the greatest wine on the table, for sure. But it’s still a bit penny wise with its fruit.

Both of the Barolo were superb with the roast rack of lamb, a great pairing on a stormy night in my adoptive town.

But the dish that really thrilled the guests (and me) was the pasta tossed with delicata squash, foie gras, and hen-of-the-woods (below). Honestly, when I read the menu I wasn’t sure how that dish was going to come together but it was wonderful to experience how it “mirrored” the flavors in the wines, especially the Barbaresco Masseria.

There’s so much more to tell from last night’s unforgettable dinner but now it’s time to face the end-of-days rain falling over Houston and go taste a bunch of Brunello at the Benvenuto Brunello event, which has returned to our city this year.

Nice work if you can get it…

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David Lynch to be featured speaker at Taste of Italy Houston (March 6)

david-lynch-wine-writer-sommelierAbove: Italian wine-focused author, journalist, and super cool sommelier and restaurateur David Lynch (left) with Californian winemaker Jim Clendenen (photo by Jasmine Hirsch via David’s Facebook).

This year is already shaping up to be a great one for Italian wine and food in Texas.

Tomorrow night I’m attending a dinner with winemaker Luca Currado at Tony’s in Houston where he will be pouring top wines from Vietti. Super psyched for that. (As of yesterday, there were just a couple of seats available.)

Thursday, I’ll take part in the Benvenuto Brunello seminar and tasting in Houston. I’m so geeked to see this A-list event return to the Bayou City. (I have no idea if registration is still open but I can’t imagine that they will turn people away.)

And on Monday, January 30, I’ll be tasting with my UniSG colleagues at the Slow Wine event in Austin. (I believe registration is still open for this one.)

That’s just January, folks!

Another primetime event that I’m super stoked about is the third-annual Taste of Italy Houston fair, presented by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas, on Monday, March 6. The chamber asked me to join their team last year and I’ve been giddily involved in planning this year’s gathering.

The coolest news is that David Lynch (above) will be our featured speaker this year. David’s a friend and one of the people working in Italian wine whom I admire most. We met many years ago when we were both living in New York and he was working on his landmark guide to the wines of Italy, Vino Italiano. At the time, no one knew the history he would make with his brilliant list at Babbo, a program that literally reshaped the future of Italian wine in this country.

David is also one of the most engaging wine speakers I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he’s agreed to moderate a panel at the event.

Some of the other great food and wine personalities who will be speaking at the fair this year: J.C. Reid, who has written extensively about Carbonara for the Houston Chronicle; sommeliers Jaime De Leon and Thomas Moësse (two of the coolest dudes working in wine in Texas today imho); and my good buddy Joseph “Grappa” Kemble, the Italian buyer for Spec’s (one of the biggest retailers in the country). And I’ll be speaking, too…

Click here for a preview of the fair. And click here to pre-register (it’s free to all). More than 60 Italian food and wine producers will be presenting.

When I moved to Texas in December 2008, a close friend from my NYC days was worried for me: “what will you drink?” she said at the time. Between Slow Wine, Benvenuto Brunello, and all the super groovy Italian winemakers who are coming to Texas these days, I’m happy to report that I’m drinking just fine…

taste-of-italy-logo

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: turn not a blind eye to racism in Trump America

martin-luther-king-donald-trumpThree books I read as a teenager shaped my awareness of historic institutionalized racism in our country.

Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (I wanted to do a book report on it at the time but my high school English teacher wouldn’t let me).

The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

And Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book on the civil rights movement in America.

I’ll never forget how one of my parents’ friends, a man I worked for at the time in La Jolla where I grew up, dismissed King as a “communist” and questioned the value of reading the book.

That was San Diego, California in the early 1980s. Now I live in Houston, Texas in Trump America. Much has changed in the meantime but, sadly, much has remained the same.

Earlier this month, the conservative journalist and cultural commentator David Brooks wrote about “the populist ethno-nationalists” in the incoming administration.

Isn’t it time that we stop euphemizing the politics of bigotry that defined Trump’s road to the White House and call it what it really is?

I hear so many people say that they voted for Trump because of the economy, because of jobs, because of immigration, because of trade, because of government corruption. Fair enough. If you believe that his policies are really going to change America for the better, I hope you are right (although I doubt that you are). He’s about to become the president and his party controls both chambers of the U.S. congress and we are all waiting anxiously to see what comes to pass.

But anyone who claims that Trump’s campaign wasn’t rooted in bigotry and racism has conveniently and tragically turned a blind eye to his repeated racist outbursts. And anyone who ignores the fact that he has filled his administration with political agents who are either insensitive or outwardly opposed to the civil rights movement is equally blind to the new Trump America.

On this day celebrating the life, legacy, and achievements of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., I ask you to:

– think about how your black neighbors feel when they see a Confederate flag on your other neighbor’s porch or truck;

– think about how our fellow black Americans feel when they have an incoming president who told them that they should vote for him because “what do you have to lose?”;

– think about your grandparents’ parents’ feelings about race and racism and how your own feelings about race and racism have evolved in your lifetime.

This year, on the eve of the federal holiday commemorating the historic civil rights movement’s greatest figure, Trump injuriously libeled and insulted a man who literally marched with King and who has served our country ever since. He’s one of the most respected politicians of our lifetime.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2017, I ask you not to turn a blind eye to the bigotry that surrounds us. Only we can know what we feel in our hearts, unless we decide to share what we feel with our sisters and brothers.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2014: good to the last drop (3 days later)

selvapiana-chianti-rufina-2014Just a quickie this very busy Thursday morning as the food and wine world seems to be finally getting back online.

I opened the above bottle of Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2014 four nights ago and drank two glasses with dinner over the last three evenings.

And man, the very last glass, which I paired with rotisserie chicken and a baked potato (dressed simply with extra-virgin olive oil, Kosher salt, and freshly cracked pepper), was the best of all.

I was just blown away by how vibrant and how varietally expressive this wine was. It wasn’t just hanging in there on the third night. It was actually even better than the previous evening.

What a great wine and what a great value… All things considered, for the price (around $17 in my market) and quality and availability throughout the U.S., this is one of my all-time top wines. Definitely in my top 5 for greater Chianti. It also paired gorgeously with Tracie P’s Neapolitan-style ragù on nights one and two.

That’s all I have time for today… more tomorrow… Thanks for being here.

Italian wine in 2016: a year that dramatically reshaped the industry and gave us “Asti Secco”

vietti-sale-baroloAbove: the sale of legacy Barolo grower and producer Vietti was one of the most talked about stories of 2016. But there were many other stories that dramatically reshaped Italy’s viticultural landscape.

“The year came to a close with another major loss,” wrote Italian wine critic Monica Larner last week in her excellent almanac for 2016 on RobertParker.com:

    The Felluga family of Gorizia in Friuli Venezia Giulia announced on December 27 that their much-celebrated patriarch Livio Felluga had passed away a few days prior. He was 102 years old. Mr. Felluga’s extraordinary life saw two world wars and Italy’s post-war economic boom. He shaped the wine identity of Northeast Italy and championed the concept of quality Italian white wines that would spark an important export phenomenon. Among Mr. Felluga’s most important contribution is his approach to farming. He famously refurbished previously abandoned vineyards and painstakingly brought old vines back to prime production health. He implemented modern trellising, high density planting and systems to guarantee low yields.

Felluga was just one of three Italian icons who transhumanized in 2016, to borrow Dante’s neologism. Stanko Radikon and Giacomo Tachis, both of whom Monica remembers in her piece, were two others. In their own ways, each of them radically re-envisioned and re-routed the trajectory of Italian wine. Their lives form a triptych of the Italian wine trade’s transformation since the end of the Second World War.

When future observers of the Italian wine trade look back on the fateful year of 2016 (a year of radical social-political-and-cultural upheaval throughout the world), they will also remember the “all-out land-grab,” as Monica put it, in Italy’s premium-brand appellations. 12 months ago, no Cassandra could have predicted what has been widely called the “Burgundization” of Italians most prominent appellations.

“Some have dubbed it the ‘Burgundization’ of Italian wine,” wrote Monica, “because like in Burgundy, there is simmering resistance and palpable discomfort in Italy over foreign and corporate capital in local wine.”

The Vietti sale to an American investor was arguably the most talked-about. But Biondi-Santi, Cerbaiona, and countless other leading high-end and high-profile brands in Langa, Bolgheri, and Montalcino changed hands in 2016. Many of the properties went to foreign investors and many went to the growing number of Italy’s corporate winery groups.

(It’s behind a paywall but Monica’s is such a great overview of this transformational year in Italian wine. I highly recommend it to you.)

The year’s necrology and its feudalization will be the elements that will be remembered most by future observers of the Italian wine trade. But there were other stories that will have far-reaching implications for Italian wine.

In 2016, Langa winemakers handily crushed greater Piedmont’s attempt to create a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC. It was one of the most pitched battles of the year for Italian winemakers.

“The Langhe have won the Nebbiolo war,” wrote leading Italian wine writer Luciano Ferraro for the national daily Corriere della Sera after the dust had settled.

michele-antonio-finoAbove: my friend and UniSG colleague Michele Fino. In widely read and reposted editorials last year, he wrote in favor of a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC and against changes in the Asti DOCG that would allow producers to write “Secco” on their labels.

Another Piedmontese conquest, scarcely noticed by the American wine media, was the move by Moscato d’Asti producers to allow bottlers to include the word “Secco,” meaning dry in Italian, on their labels.

In a September 2016 post entitled “Why ‘Asti Secco’ Is Unacceptable” for Intravino, my UniSG colleague and legal expert Michele Fino (above) explained (my paraphrasis): Asti, Marsala, and Franciacorta are the only Italian DOCGs where producers are not required to write “DOCG” on the label; as a result of the new appellation regulations, bottlers will now be able to write “Asti Secco” on their labels.

Many, like Fino, see this linguistic contortionism as an attempt by Asti bottlers to take a greater slice of the ever-more lucrative and ever-growing Prosecco market.

Prosecco bottlers have lobbied aggressively to block adoption of the new rule but the Italian agriculture ministry is expected to approve the changes next week.

It’s likely that Asti producers will present the new labels this spring at Vinitaly and Prowein.

What Cassandra could have imagined that Target and Walmart shoppers would see “Cupcake Asti Secco” on the shelves next holiday season?

In the wake of 2016, when the world witnessed a truly epochal shift in political and cultural currency, it seems that no deal is off the table.

Happy 2017, everyone! Thanks for being here and thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to another year in Italian wine with you. Stay tuned…

Hitler humor no longer funny in Trump America

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress (Charlie Chaplin, 1940).

donald-trump-hitlerMel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” is one of the greatest joys and regrets of my life as a parent.

Tracie P and I are big Broadway musical fans. And so it was only natural that our love of “song and dance” would rub off on our children.

Early on in our lives as parents, we had to eliminate “The Book of Mormon” from our playlists because of the pervasive profanity and the delicate subject matter. After all, my in-laws are devout Methodists.

But with a little real-time manual editing (Yiddish profanity doesn’t count), “The Producers” managed to make the cut. And our girls love it. The number “Springtime for Hitler” is their favorite and it’s their most frequently requested song (trumping even “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” believe it or not, another big hit at our house). They have no idea what it means or why it’s funny. They just love the music and the cadence of the actors (“ever eat with one?”).

We have a rule: “The Producers” can only be sung in the car, at home, or on the phone (Georgia P added that last medium for good measure) because not everyone likes “The Producers” as much as we do.

All things considered, we’ve struck a healthy balance of self-censorship and a sense of what’s appropriate at home and in public. Georgia is always the first to admonish me if she catches me humming “Keep it Gay” at the mall.

But in the light of the numerous anti-Semitic episodes that have taken place in the U.S. since the advent of Trump America (some of them very close to home), the Hitler humor that we used to enjoy together (“You’re looking for a war? Here’s World War II!”) has lost its sheen.

Less than two weeks before Christmas last year, anti-Semitic episodes were reported at the University of Houston. Our niece (Tracie’s side of the family) is in her second year of college at UH and it’s conceivable that our own children will go to school there someday. I never would have thought that anti-Semitism would still be so prevalent in my daughters’ lifetime. But evidently it’s alive and well on college campuses (and it was already on the rise before the election).

Just a few days later, it was reported that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, a political party that nearly came to power in the country’s parliamentary elections last fall, a party that espouses anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric (remember that many Muslims are Semites), a party founded by ex-members of the Nazi party. How’s that for funny?

And just last week, swastikas and “white power” were among the graffiti spray-painted on the walls of a high school in an affluent Houston neighborhood.

My friends in New York City (where I lived for 10 years in my 30s) tell me that they have recently seen “Trump” scrawled next to swastikas on the subway. And it was only a few days after the election that Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn Heights!) was defaced with swastikas and slogans of “Go Trump.” I “never, ever, ever” saw anything like that in my decade in city where the Statue of Liberty looks out over Ellis Island.

I don’t ascribe or attribute these episodes to Trump. But I do know that before the presidential campaign and election, such episodes were a rare occurrence. Now they are not.

That’s going to be a lot harder to explain to my semi-Semitic children than the humor in “The Producers.”

Hitler humor has a long and grand tradition in the U.S. Disney and Spike Jones were among the pioneers (see video below) as was Charlie Chaplin. Lenny Bruce was another (“How Hitler Got Started” is one of the brilliant sketches of the American comedy canon imho).

Mel Brooks’ musical and 1968 film by the same title are supreme expressions of that legacy. But they just aren’t funny anymore. The chord they strike now rings too close to home.

Please view and listen to Chaplin’s speech below, the finale of “The Great Dictator” (1940). His words couldn’t ring more true.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.