Wild blackberries, Milanese cutlet sandwiches, and a hike in Franciacorta’s peatlands make for a fine Sunday afternoon

wild blackberriesI photographed these wild blackberries as I hiked through Franciacorta’s peatlands this afternoon after lunch.

What an amazing, gorgeous visit! Super hot today but the marshland trails were wonderful.

peat franciacorta italyWith highs in the 90s, today probably wasn’t the best day for hiking in a swamp. A beautiful swamp. But a swamp nonetheless.

But on a cooler day, I can’t recommend it enough. Here’s a post on my visit and hike that I wrote for the Franciacorta Real Story blog when I got back to my hotel in Brescia. (Yes, the Franciacorta consortium actually pays me to do this stuff; sweet gig!)

It’s really worth checking out… and really interesting to learn that peat was once a major source of fuel here (in the 1700s).

cotoletta milanese recipeOf course, no visit to Franciacorta was going to happen without a stop at Vittorio Fusari’s Dispensa Pani e Vini, one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

An Italian artisanal beer and Vittorio’s cotoletta alla milanese sandwich, served with a schmear of puréed potatoes… my goodness, that was awesome.

Some say that the restaurant just isn’t the same since Vittorio went off to cook in Milan. But I say hogwash.

A perfect Sunday afternoon in Franciacorta, if you ask me.

Check out the peatlands here. Really cool stuff.

Buona domenica a tutti!

Thoughts and prayers for America…

On a day like today, we can only look within ourselves, our hearts and minds, and reflect on how we can make our country and this world a better place for all.

The Parzen family is praying for all those affected by the wave of violence that continues to plague our nation.

G-d bless the victims of this week’s tragic events and their families and G-d bless America.

rothko houston

Alfonso Cevola responds to a post (and breaks our hearts)

alfonso cevola glazersAbove: Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in a happier time in our now defunct friendship, which dates back to 2007. Here’s a profile of Alfonso I wrote for the Houston Press after he won the Vinitaly International Prize in 2013.

In the spirit of fair and balanced wine blogging, I’d like to share a note from leading Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in response to my June 27 post, “Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors.”

Your post last week, claimed three falsehoods:
1) The two large distributors do not control 99% of the market
2) As for heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales –Texas is #43 (along with California) in state wine taxation among the 50 states.
3) RE:The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks – Outside fulfillment is legal as long as the fulfillment company ( and the trucks they are using) have proper TABC permits. And yes, small distributors can (and do) pool deliveries in Texas.

Alfonso is the Italian Wine Director for Glazer’s, previously one of the two biggest wine distributors in Texas. Now, with the completion of the Southern-Glazer’s “mega deal” merger, the company is part of “the U.S. market’s largest wine and spirits distributor by far, distributing more than 150 million cases of wine and spirits annually, employing more than 20,000 people and operating in 44 states plus the District of Columbia, the Caribbean, and Canada. Total revenues are at more than $15 billion” (Shanken News Daily, June 30, 2016).

I don’t entirely agree with Alfonso’s assessment but felt it was important to share it here. I have also updated my June 27 post with an errata corrige.

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Tony Vallone, an American master and an American original

seafood gazpacho recipeAbove: I snapped this image of a seafood gazpacho a few weeks ago at Tony’s, where I meet with Tony Vallone and photograph his food nearly every week. One of the best things about moving to Texas and starting a life and a family here has been getting to work with him. I love it and cherish his friendship.

Week before last, Houston’s paper of record, the Houston Chronicle, profiled my good friend and client Tony Vallone (above, center) for its “History of Houston” series.

Since I moved to Texas, Tracie and I have shared some unforgettable meals at his restaurant, Tony’s, which he first opened in 1965 long before America’s food and wine renaissance took shape.

I wish I could share the whole article here but it’s behind a subscription wall. The following is a snippet.

Part of Vallone’s genius was to make Houstonians feel that the world was at their feet at a time when the city was increasingly staking its claim on a national and international stage. Nothing was too much trouble, from the freshest Dover sole to hulking knobs of white truffle, or the glistening Beluga caviar that Cullen oil heir Baron Ricky di Portanova would, by special request, theatrically toss into a plate of pasta for his table mates.

Another facet of Vallone’s genius was to make his restaurant fun. Sure, he required male guests to wear tie and jacket. But Vallone would cater to favored guests in all sorts of charmingly goofy ways. When developer Harold Farb requested chicken-fried steak, no problem. Did oilman John Mecom crave chili? Vallone made it for him, and the proletarian dish eventually achieved cult status on Fridays.

Read the rest of the article here (I believe it’s still available to non-subscribers).

In today’s world of gossipy food writing, where news of hirings and firings and openings and closings and an unabated hunger for clicks often seem to trump the coverage of the food itself, we sometimes forget that that the food arts are driven by genuine knowledge, passion, and creativity.

Thanks to my work and friendship with Tony, I get to watch his artistry up close (at our weekly kibitz, as we like to call our meetings). I wish that everyone could share my bird’s-eye view and hear him as he holds court on the finer points of Italian regional cookery, the differences in grades of caviar and truffles, recipes for French sauces and Americana classics… His energy and excitement are so great that his chef, his general manager, and I can barely keep up with his pace. For all the things that I get to taste and learn, our chats and tastings (where I also photograph his food) are one of the things I most look forward to.

He’s an American master and an American original. Yes, he’s cooked for every president from Johnson onward. Yes, you regularly see international celebrities at his restaurant. Yes, oil moguls spend outrageous sums there nightly as they dig deep into Tony’s wine cellar. But for Tony, it’s all about the science and art of cooking.

If you are a foodie and live in Houston or visit here, his cuisine is not to be missed.

For the month of July, Tony is doing a $59 tasting menu that includes wine pairings. It’s a great deal and a great way to experience Tony’s magic. I highly recommend it to you.

$100 bbq for three people? Yes, it happened in Austin, Texas

best barbecue austinYes, people, it’s true: that’s $100 worth of Texas bbq right there in that photo.

3/4 lbs. brisket
1 beef rib
1 sausage
1 pulled pork sandwich
1 handful of pulled pork on the side
1/2 pint of coleslaw
1/2 pint of potato salad
6 bottles of water
1 Coke
3 people

My bromance Giovanni has been staying with us this week and on Tuesday I took him to Austin for some honky-tonking and a visit to one of my clients there.

Yesterday, we arrived early at La Barbecue — currently, Austin’s hippest destination for ‘cue — where we waited in line for an hour to get our food.

It was delicious. Definitely up there with some of the best bbq I’ve ever had. The smoke ring on the brisket was impeccable. The tenderness and flavor of the pork peerless and beyond reproach. The potato salad divinely classic and classically divine.

But $100 for three people? In my view, that’s an Oedipal reversal of what bbq is supposed to be about.

But then again, when you hear people talk about how they used to pay $6.99 for first-growth Bordeaux in the 1970s, you can’t help but see the parallels in the ways that the market (and marketing) can drive our perceptions of value.

To put it into perspective, uncle Marty treated Giovanni and me to lunch at Brisket House in Houston on Monday. It’s one of the best smokers imho in our city. Our bill for a similar amount of food was around $50 and our wait was 15 minutes.

As we drove back to Houston, I remembered how Snow’s in Lexington, Texas was all the rage back when I first moved to the state in 2008. It’s the first bbq destination (at least that I remember) where people bragged about lining up early in the morning to get their food before it ran out. Today, there are a handful (if not more) of similarly popular smokers spread out across Austin and Houston.

What’s the world coming to? I’m not sure but I know it’s delicious (and expensive).

A spectacular splurge wine from Friuli

morus albaBetween a seminar I led at Vinitaly in April, a recent visit to Friuli and all the great wine that’s finding its way to Texas from Friuli (thanks to a new wave of independent distributors and forward-thinking wine professionals), some amazing Friulian wines have filled my glass over the last couple of months.

But the one I can’t stop thinking about is the Morus Alba by Vignai da Duline, a splurge wine that costs around $60 in our market.

Honestly, I can’t recall ever tasting a Malvasia Istriana and Sauvignon Blanc blend like this extraordinary wine. In my experience, Malvasia Istriana (not related to the many different clones of Malvasia found throughout Italy and Europe) is generally bottled as a monovarietal wine (like Venica’s excellent Pètris).

In this cuvée, the Malvasia has an opulent unctuousness that plays against the more angular Sauvignon Blanc with spectacular results. And even with a slightly higher alcohol content than I would generally reach for, this wine was impeccably balanced. What a wine!

I’ve never visited the winery or tasted with the winemaker but I imagine the proprietary name is a homage to Friuli’s historic silk trade.

Morus alba is Latin for the white mulberry, a tree commonly found in Friuli and a favorite food of silkworms.

The Morus Alba that Tracie P and I shared the other night was a splurge wine, for sure. A “special occasion” bottle that we enjoyed thanks to a project I’ve been working on. But, man, it was worth every penny…

Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors Houston wine buyers find creative ways to source labels beyond mainstream channels

best italian wine list houstonAbove: Thomas Moësse authors my (current) favorite Italian wine list in Houston at Divino. There’s a lot of great Italian wine in my adoptive city and it seems that more is finding its way here every day.

Not a lot has changed in the way wine is shipped and distributed in Texas since I moved here nearly eight years ago.

The two biggies — Glazer’s and Republic — continue to control 99 percent an overwhelming majority of the market and small and independent distributors continue to be thwarted by restrictive policy and excessive regulation of wine sales.

The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks. In other words, you have to own your own temperature-controlled storage and vehicles. Those costs are prohibitive for a small business owner who’s trying to bring small allocations of wine to the state.

Heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales is another issue (yes, taxation in Texas, people). Unless you are working with big volume, it’s nearly impossible to compensate for the bite that the state takes from your profit and still deliver competitive pricing. (Errata corrige, July 7, 2016: currently, Texas “subjects mixed beverages [i.e., alcoholic beverages] to a total tax of 15.25 percent [between] the mixed beverage gross receipts tax and the new mixed beverage sales tax, – 1.25 percent higher than in 2013.” That’s nearly twice the 8 percent sales tax that Californians pay in San Diego, my hometown, for example.)

The Texan political class claims deregulation as its battle cry. But when it comes to the wine trade, Austin legislators have regulated our right to drink artisanal wine into the ground. Here in Texas, freedom’s just another word for shitty wine diminished diversity in the marketplace.

When the newly appointed editor at the Houston Press asked me to do a round-up of “wine deals” for summer, I reached out to our city’s growing number of progressive wine professionals and was wholly impressed by their “out-of-the-big-wine-box” approach.

For July’s Loire Fest, which will include 20+ Houston wine-focused venues, the organizer bargained with distributors (large and small) to get the best deals on by-the-glass pours. That’s going to translate into aggressive pricing for average Giovannas and Giuseppes like me.

Another example is the model embraced author of my favorite Italian wine list in Houston. He sources many of his wines directly in Italy and then works with small distributors to bring them in. They are willing to take on the risk because they are confident that they won’t be saddled with unsold wine.

Even a restaurant like Prego, a workhorse Italian in an upscale Houston neighborhood since 1983 (as the name reveals), has a compact but sturdy list of groovy Rhône-variety rosés from natural and forward-thinking Californian producers sourced from courageous “small business owner” distributors.

Any one of my hipper-than-though hipper-than-thou W-burg colleagues would find plenty of good wine to drink this summer in my adoptive city. And it’s all thanks to a new generation of Texan wine professionals who find ways to get us the wine we want (and the wine we don’t know that we want).

Bottoms up, Houstonians! Here’s to our best wine summer yet and here’s my post today for the Houston Press.

My wife, my lover…

From the department of “I read the news today o boy…”

A song I wrote last Sunday.

On this day on Father’s Day in 1975
A boy sat in his daddy’s lap
And then began to cry
Because there was soon to be a rift inside this house
It all went south

Then some years had passed before
The boy moved far away
And then he met the girl who would
No longer lead astray
And then there was a place for him that he could finally call his own
Some how this house became a home

Before I met you I could hardly tie my shoes
Before you came into my life I could never lose the lonely blues
But knowing that you love me there’s no way that I could lose
You are my wife and lover, you are my muse

Fast forward to a time, a couple years from now
And then rewind to find the reason
In the where and what and how
The woman brought the very best out of you
When she said I do

Watch her hold the babies
When the thunder makes them cry
Hear her tell them that she loves them
And you’ll wonder why it took so long
To get here from that day in 1975
Doesn’t it feel good to be alive?

Before I met you I could hardly tie my shoes
Before you came into my life I could never lose the lonely blues
But knowing that you love me there’s no way that I could lose
You are my wife and lover, you are my muse

jeremy parzen wife tracie