Forget the American Pinot Grigio: please pass the Vermentino instead!

Tracie and I both really enjoyed this Vermentino (above) from Troon Vineyard in Oregon.

My longtime friend Craig Camp, the estate’s general manager, had sent me a flight of the property’s wine in exchange for some consulting I did for him.

From San Diego county to southern Oregon, I’ve tasted some great wines made from Vermentino over the last 12 months. And this bottle got me thinking: where American Pinot Grigio has nearly always struck me as uninspired, west coast Vermentino can really deliver in terms of varietal expression, food-friendly drinkability, and approachable cost (according to WineSearcher this wine should retail for around $15).

Historically, American viticulture has always been driven by winemakers’ desire of the Other (apologies for the post-modern speak). The patricians who founded Napa Valley drank Bordeaux and Burgundy like their British counterparts. And so they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay even though those may not have been the ideal varieties to grow there.

The same could be said of the American Pinot Grigio mania of the 2000s.

Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t grow Pinot Grigio in California because it’s the ideal grape to grow there. He grows it because he and his company think that’s what Americans want to drink (they blend it with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc according to the winery’s website).

As Tracie and I happily polished off Craig’s Vermentino over the course of two nights (it was still super fresh on night two, btw), I couldn’t help but think: could Vermentino be the white grape that California and Oregon winemakers have been waiting for?

The wine had a wonderful buoyant character thanks to its zippy acidity and a classic citrus note, typical of Vermentino when handled properly. I remembered a Vermentino I had tasted with a San Diego grower last year and how proud he was of its continuity with Vermentino farmed in Sardinia. That one was delicious and affordable, too.

Vermentino: it’s the new — or at least it should be the new — Pinot Grigio!

In other news…

A lot of folks asked me about the below photo, which I shared yesterday on my Instagram.

That cast-iron skillet belonged to Tracie’s maternal grandmother, Georgia Ann, our oldest daughter’s namesake.

She faced severe economic challenges over the course of her lifetime yet she raised a large brood of happy and healthy Texans. And by all accounts, she could cook like nobody’s business.

We use that pan nearly every day at our house, from frying bacon in the morning to pan-fired chicken, pork chops, and steaks at night. It’s so well-seasoned that you barely need to salt the meat. And man, I’ve never had a better grilled cheese sandwich than the ones I’ve turned out with that pan.

Last night’s blackened chicken was the easiest thing to make: I simply salted the split breasts and added them to the pan without any fat after I had let the skillet heat properly over low heat; aside from turning the meat, I didn’t have to do anything else. It made for a great pairing with the Vermentino.

Sacred and profane: a subversive Barolo pairing so wrong that it could only be right

Like the legend of the phoenix / All ends with beginnings.

Single-vineyard designate Barolo and steak tacos piled high with spicy guacamole and pico de gallo…

I almost feel guilty writing the above sentence and I apologize in advance to the Borgogno winery.

Night before last, Tracie was craving steak. And so I picked up a couple of New York strips (yes, we eat those in Texas, although rib-eye is our state’s official cut) and some fingerling potatoes.

And since a bottle of 2012 Barolo Liste had fallen out of a Slow Wine van as it left the building a few weeks ago (one of the perks of my gig with the Italy-American Chamber of Commerce), we figured it would be a fun way to kick off a quiet evening at home (dinner was followed by a screening of the new Star Wars episode.

The wine and pan-fired steaks were delicious. We drank half the bottle, knowing all the while that we would enjoy a glass of this superb single-vineyard expression of Nebbiolo for the next two, three, and even four nights (one of the wonders of large-cask aged Barolo).

Yesterday evening (night two), I diced the leftover steak for tacos. After the ziplock bagged meat has sat in the fridge over night, I love the way it becomes desiccated and tender. And I relish its aroma and texture once its been reheated — a teenage San Diego memory of late-night burritos de carne asada (a midnight run to Roberto’s, anyone?).

One of the many great things about living in Texas is that there is ready availability of freshly made guacamole and pico de gallo. After I gently heated the flour tortillas stuffed with beef, already sprinkled generously with shredded cheese, I generously add a dollop of each of the toppings.

By the time we sat down for dinner, the wine had evolved dramatically from the night before and its fruit was really beginning to show. But everything about this subversive — transgressive, I should say — pairing was wrong: the citrus and heat of the toppings were antithetical to the wine. Fortunately for me, the superb acidity in this old-school-style wine seemed to giddily rise to the occasion. It was one of the most satisfying meals of the month (so far… it ain’t over yet!).

What a great wine and — if I do say so myself — what a great pairing despite its unorthodox nature. It just all came together in an unexpected way.

Opening and pairing any bottle of wine is always a gamble, a roll of the dice. And last night Lady Luck seemed to smile on me.

In other news…

I recently discovered this excellent integrated Google map to the Barolo crus on Antonio Galloni’s Vinous portal. It has a wonderful overlay that guides the user through the implicit hierarchy of the single-vineyard designations (Liste, for example, is in the second-to-best tier (“outstanding”). You don’t need to be a subscriber to access (I love Vinous, btw, and highly recommend doing the subscription).

Buon weekend a tutti! Have a great weekend, ya’ll!

Just call it freakin’ Tocai already! (Thank you Il Carpino and Franco Sosol!)

From the department of “it’s hard to be Slow when you’re traveling twice the speed of sound”…

The world of Italian wine moves so fast these days that we often forget that the mosaic of Italy’s vinous treasure is as endless as it is wondrous.

I was reminded of this eternal truth last week at the Slow Wine Guide tasting in San Francisco when I tasted a wine from an estate that I’d never heard of before: the Sosol family’s Il Carpino farm in Collio (Friuli).

The wines were stunning, especially the Tocai (above). And I was thrilled to see that they label called it Tocai and not Friulano. That’s actually not surprising. In 2007 a ruling from the EU made it illegal to write Tocai on wines that were sold outside Italy (the decision was the result of Hungary’s complaint Italian Tocai created market confusion with Hungarian Tokaj). But as long as the wines are sold with Italy’s borders, it’s legal to label it Tocai (and the Sosol family openly calls it Tocai on their website).

Some years ago, one of the great pioneers of Friuli’s macerated wine movement, Radikon, began labeling their Tocai as Jakot, a hypercorrective anagram of Tocai (the j in Jakot is a reflection of the vowel’s quantity — long vs. short, in Latin grammar [yes, j is actually a vowel] — and the k is a sensational rendering of the c; both hypercorrections allude to Latin rendering of the Hungarian Cyrillic).

The sardonic workaround reflected Italian growers’ frustration at being forced to rename some thing they view as part of their (agri)cultural heritage.

I’ve never seen Il Carpino in the U.S. and I have no idea who imports or is looking at importing them. But whoever it is, they’ll be taking my money soon! Run don’t walk for these wines.

Another highlight for me at the tasting last week was Pievalta’s 2012 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva San Paolo. I used to do some writing for the Barone Pizzini group, which includes the Pievalta estate. That’s BP COO Silvano Brescianini in the photo above. I’ve followed the wines since the earliest vintages and I really believe this year’s release and next year’s, from the 2013 harvest, are really going to put the little-biodynamic-estate-that-could on the map for good. Great wines.

Speaking of the 2013 harvest, I was also stoked to taste the new release of G.D. Vajra’s Barolo Bricco delle Viole. What a vintage for this wine!

That’s Vajra’s international ambassador Giuseppe (right, in the photo above) with my colleague from Rossoblu in LA (where I write the wine list), Skylar Hughes. I’ve followed these wines for nearly two decades now and I’ve watched Giuseppe grow into his role as the face of the winery over the last eight years since I first met him. It’s been remarkable to see and I know the 2013 vintage is going to be a legacy harvest for him and his family.

There were so many great wines at this year’s event (which had a different lineup in every city). La Mesma, Zidarich, Pino, Amalia… and many more.

Later this week, I’ll post notes from the California wineries who participated and the release of the new Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California (I’m the coordinating editor of the guide). Stay tuned and thanks for being here.

Josetta Saffirio 2013 Barolo already showing nicely (and pairs great with Tex-Mex)

Lunchtime at a bustling Houston-area Tex-Mex restaurant isn’t exactly the ideal place to taste Barolo.

But that’s where the Josetta Saffirio sales team was on Friday last week when I had a free hour to meet.

The venue was dimly lit and extremely crowded and loud when I sat down with young Marco Serra, the winery’s new “supplier rep,” as we call them in the trade. The aroma of sizzling chicken fajitas and hard-shell tacos filled with unctuous ground beef wafted through the air, adding, layer by layer, to the joint’s patina.

But where there is Nebbiolo to taste, professionals like me and Marco always seem to rise to the occasion.

Despite some challenges growers faced that year, the 2013 harvest in Langa (where Barolo and Barbaresco are made) is expected to be a classic crop, with good acidity and great aging potential. Many of the wines I’ve tasted so far are still “tight,” parsimonious with their fruit, with tannin that continues to eclipse the brighter flavors the wines will ultimately develop over time. But the 2013 Josetta Saffirio Barolo was already showing nicely, with some of the fruit flavor emerging against the winery’s signature earthiness and savory character.

I ascribe the early drinkability in part to fact that the wine had been open all morning. But it’s also owed to the winery’s style. In my experience, its wines tend to land on the approachable side of the modern vs. traditional dialectic. But they also remain faithful to the umami flavors that east-side Barolo (grown in ancient Serravallian — not Helvetian — soils, the latter being the term that too many Barolisti still erroneously use when referring to the pedological classification. (If you don’t believe me, look it up.)

The Saffirio 2013 Barolo may not be a wine for the ages but it will reward the drinker (and perhaps most importantly, the impatient restaurant drinker) with good balance, lovely fruit, classic earthiness, and a more than reasonable price.

Dulcis in fundo, Marco, who is in his first post-grad year in the work force, is an ex-student of mine from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, where he studied “wine writing in the digital era” with me. That’s Marco below (and be sure to check out his blog posts about the trip, his first time ever in the U.S.).

Nothing could fill me with more pride than to know that he is gainfully employed and doing a great job.

And nothing could fill me with more wondrous joy than to think of this young, bright, and talented dude, on his first trip to America to sell wine. It’s the beginning of what will surely be a long and rich adventure in the wine trade.

Marco, thanks for coming to Texas and bringing great wine with you!

No smear campaign is going to stop our protests of the Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas

This week, my wife Tracie’s 97-year-old grandmother received an anonymous letter defaming her granddaughter and me. The author claimed to have gone to school at the same California university where I received my doctorate. She/he evidently felt compelled to share slanderous, false information about our lives, including our sex lives and our children.

Known affectionately by everyone in our family as “memaw,” my grandmother-in-law was unfazed by the letter. She didn’t even bother reading it, she said, once she realized what it was.

There’s no doubt in any of our minds that this crude and anemic attempt to bully us was inspired by our efforts to repurpose the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where memaw and Tracie’s parents live.

Thats the “Confederate Memorial of the Wind” above. Here’s a Houstonia article, published last week, about our campaign and its origins.

As Tracie’s father, Reverend Randy Branch put it, “someone who would send this to your 97-year-old grandmother can’t be all there.”

I’m not going to reveal the contents of the letter but it’s clear that the author is rabidly homophobic, probably impotent (there are graphic references to dildos and fertility issues), and clearly uneducated.

Why are white supremacists so dumb? The answer begs the question.

Since we began our campaign to repurpose the site (we don’t want to tear it down or demolish it; we want to repurpose it to reflect community values in a city that is nearly 50 percent black), our detractors have threatened to “kick your ass” and to “send snipers” to our next protest.

But as anyone who lives in Southeast Texas knows, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (who erected the site) and their supporters are generally a bunch of cowards whose bullying comes in the form of epithets hurled from a passing pickup truck, social media posts, and — now — an anonymous letter.

Given the many phallic references in the missive, I imagine the author is a male. Here’s my message to him: be a man and come meet me face to face, man to man, and human to human at our next protest on Saturday, April 7. No threat or smear campaign is going to stop me or us. So be a man, be a human being, and show your face and real colors.

Are you man enough? No, I didn’t think so. That’s the kind of sheep you are, isn’t it? The fact that you send anonymous “poison pen” letters to our memaw is clear indication that we are getting through to you and making you uncomfortable. That’s exactly what we want. Get ready for more, pilgrim. And in the meantime, shame on you.

Click here for April 7 protest details and please like our cause on Facebook and signup for our email newsletter.

From Vidor, Texas to San Francisco, Slow Wine tour comes to an end today

From the department of “if it sounds country, well, then, it is” (Kris Kristofferson)…

When Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio asked me if there was something he shouldn’t miss on the touring team’s drive from New Orleans to Houston, I told him to drive straight through to my adoptive city where I knew he and the group of traveling Slows would enjoy dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Caracol. They did btw.

It was only the next day that I learned that they had stopped for lunch in a town not far from where my wife Tracie grew up on the Louisiana border: Vidor. It’s pronounced VAY-dohr, not to be confused with Vidor in Treviso province, pronounced vee-DOHR and home to a Slow Wine Prosecco producer.

Evidently, Giancarlo’s GPS had informed him of an accident on Interstate 10 and so he took their van off the freeway at the first exit, which just happened to be Vidor.

There are actually a lot of very good places to eat along the highway between Lake Charles (Louisiana) and the Golden Triangle, which includes Orange, Vidor, and Beaumont. My favorite is Steam Boat Bill’s. But there are a ton of little holes-in-the-wall places like Paul’s.

Vidor isn’t exactly known for its welcoming spirit. And I wasn’t surprised when I read this Facebook review, posted yesterday and still published on the Paul’s page (despite the fact that it doesn’t adhere to Facebook community standards). It’s probably because Paul doesn’t check his Facebook much. Or may be he does.

Giancarlo and his team enjoyed the fried shrimp and frogs’ legs. And they said everyone was really nice to them (despite their broken English).

One thing is certain: they definitely happened upon some truly “slow” food in the corner of Texas that Tracie and I call home. They made it to Houston that day without incident and we had a fantastic turn-out for the Taste of Italy and Slow Wine fair on Monday.

Last night, their team flew from Texas to San Francisco where we’ll be hosting the last event of the tour here today in the city. I’ll be there from 1 p.m. until closing time (and those of you have ever had a drink with me in SF know where I will be after the tasting).

Here’s the info. I hope to see you there!

Thanks, Giancarlo, for bringing Slow Wine to Vidor, Houston, and San Francisco. America is a big, big place, full of many culinary wonders (including the bbq we ate on Monday night). I’m glad that you discovered another one of them in Southeast Texas.

Top image via the Paul’s Seafood Facebook.

Taste of Italy/Slow Wine in Houston TODAY! Thanks to everyone who made it possible…

What a thrill for me to share the stage last night here in Houston with Italian wine industry great Brian Larky (foreground), US Foods Corporate Chef Joe Vargyas, and my good friend J.C. Reid, Houston Chronicle food columnist and bbq expert.

Together, we led a discussion for 50+ Italian food and wine professionals on “how to create demand for your products where there is none.”

Today, the guests from last night will be presenting their products at the Taste of Italy/Slow Wine fair. And I’ll be leading three seminars for consumers and trade members: top Piedmont wines, Lambrusco and bbq pairing, and traditional balsamic vinegars from Reggio Emilia and Modena.

But the highlight of today’s event for me will be the fact that we have brought the Slow Wine Guide grand tasting to Houston for the first time. As the newest member of the guide’s editorial team, I couldn’t be more proud that we are presenting the 2018 edition in my adoptive city.

We’re expecting more than 500 attendees today (fingers crossed!).

My heartfelt thanks go out to Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas director Alessia Paolicchi and deputy director Maurizio Gamberucci for believing in me and making this all possible.

More thanks, equally heartfelt, to chamber organizers Christina Truong, Sherri Segari, Federica Bove, and Alessandra Salvatori for the countless hours and indefatigable team spirit that have gone into every last details of our execution.

And thanks, also from my heart, to Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio who recognized the value in bringing Slow Wine to our city, the fourth largest in America, its most diverse, and home to one of the most vibrant and dynamic wine communities in the nation.

Today, months and months of meticulous planning are coming together as we present one of the biggest food and wine events ever produced here in Texas. And it’s all centered around Italy, the inspiration for my intellectual life and the source of my livelihood.

Thanks to everyone who’s coming out to support us today. I hope we get a chance to taste something great together. I know we will…

Today’s grand tasting at the Hilton Post Oak, featuring both Slow Wine estates and Taste of Italy exhibitors (food and wine), is open to the public, free of charge, from 3-5 p.m. Click here for details.

“We Are The Bunnaroos,” NEW SINGLE from the Parzen Family Singers’ forthcoming album FREE DOWNLOAD (available fall 2018 on the Terrible Kids Music)

From the department of “play it loud”…

Here’s the title track from the Parzen Family Singers’ forthcoming studio album “We Are The Bunnnaroos” (available on the Terrible Kids Music label fall 2018). The band and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did recording it!


“Bunnaroos” is our name for each other here at Ca’ dei Parzen. Sonny (a tiger) and Pandy (a panda) are two of the girls’ favorite stuffed animals. Shirley is Lila Jane’s favorite doll (her baby girl). Zoboomafoo is their favorite (vintage) animal show and the series’ lead character (a sifaka lemur).

We are the Bunnaroos
Georga, Lila, Sonny, too
Shirley, Pandy, Zoboomafoo
Mommy-roo and daddy-roo too

We want to sing
We want to dance
All night long

We are the Bunnaroos
We wear cowgirl boots
We like pink and purple too
We like to jump like kangaroos

We want to sing
We want to dance
All night long

We are the Bunnaroos
We are the Bunnaroos
We are the Bunnaroos
We are the Bunnaroos

We can count to one we can count to twos
Cause you know we cannot lose
In case you haven’t heard the news
We are called The Bunnaroos

Biodynamic traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena! How friggin’ cool is that…

As I prepare my notes for the traditional balsamic vinegar seminar and tasting I’m leading on Monday at the Taste of Italy/Slow Wine fair in Houston, I rang up my good friend Silvia Rossi from Acetaia Guerzoni in Modena province this morning.

In the 1970s it became the first ABTM — aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena — producer to farm its grapes organically and then biodynamically. How friggin’ cool is that?

Silvia is a great friend and she’s one of my go-to experts in the field: I wanted to dot my i’s and cross my t’s before our event on Monday (registration is still open for the Taste of Italy/Slow Wine Grand Tasting and there are still a few spots available for our balsamic seminar as well).

Did you know that most ABTM producers use five types of wood for their Solera aging of the vinegars?

At Guerzoni they actually use seven kinds: cherry, acacia, mulberry, ash, oak, chestnut, and juniper. Silvia shared the image above where you can see the cycles of the planets and sun that they use to determine when they rack the vinegars and transfer them to a new cask (in accordance with biodynamic precepts). Super cool, if you ask me.

Sadly, “balsamic vinegar” is one of the most misunderstood and abused categories in the world of food and wine today.

Did you know that the overwhelming majority of “balsamic vinegars” that you buy at the store (even high-end gourmet shops) is actually wine vinegar that’s been colored with a small amount of genuine balsamic vinegar? In some cases, caramel is used to color the wine vinegar. It’s a complete sham if you ask me. And btw, even in Italy colored wine vinegars are commonly sold and served as aceto balsamico.

I’m super psyched for Monday’s seminar and I hope you join me: Houston-based chef Danny Trace is doing the balsamic-inspired dishes that he’ll serve topped with the sticky icky gooey groovy delicious stuff.

A Freilichen Purim, everyone! Happy Purim! Chag sameach!

Müller-Thurgau investigation: no collusion just deliciousness from Colterenzio

Man, I was just blown away last night by Vinny Montecuollo’s wine list at Potente in downtown Houston last night. The breadth and range of his 350+ lot Italian program, the aggressive pricing (he’s using the retail-plus-corkage formula), and the balance of modern vs. traditional winemaking represented across the board… This is the type of list that has something for everyone, from the big spender who wants to share a trophy label with her friends to an average punter like me who is completely stoked to find Cantina del Pino 2011 Barbaresco for just $70 (!!!).

Vinny, who’s been on the job with the official title of “wine director” for less than a year, is hosting his first wine dinner there next week (March 6) with Gaia Gaja. The price of admission? A consumer-friendly $200 a head, a great price if Gaja is your bag.

I was also impressed by the food, like the savory squid ink macaron (above), stuffed with salmon mousse and American caviar. The signature spaghetti with black truffles were also spot-on, with high-toned egg flavor in the long noodles, cooked perfectly al dente, and not overwhelmed by the other flavors in the dish. Great stuff.

But the wine that really stole my heart last night was the Colterenzio Müller Thurgau from South Tyrol. Man, this wine had it all: zinging but not overly flashy acidity, gorgeous white flower notes on the nose and rich apple and pear in the mouth.

I also loved the wine’s soulful lack of punt. Yes, a flat-bottom bottle, folks. People who have followed Italian wine long enough know that in another era, the old-school Italians didn’t have punts (think, Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo and similar). Today, environmentally aware Italians are returning to this bottle format because it requires less glass and energy to make, thus reducing the wine’s overall carbon fart.

Really awesome wine and really cool price at just $38. How friggin’ sweet is that? Wholesome, delicious, authentic… at a price someone like me can afford.

No collusion here…

The one thing I regret about the Slow Wine tasting coming to Houston this year (March 5) is that my colleagues want me to take them out for BBQ on Monday night after the big event. That’s fine with me but they should really be checking out our groovy Italian wine scene here, at places like Potente and its sister Osso-Kristalla, Divino, Camerata (I know, shitty name!), Amalfi, Sud Italia, Vinology… So many great high-end, high-concept restaurants and wine bars that feature wines from the garden of Europe. Hope to see you on Monday at the tasting and seminars!