“Bubbles vs. bullshit” and the saddest form of wine writing

morainic-subsoils-proseccoThis week, I found myself writing a — how else to put it? — lugubrious post for a client of mine in Prosecco country.

My post was a bullet-point summary and overview of a lengthy Italian-language blog post by an Italian writer who specializes in agricultural journalism and marketing. In his post he countered claims that residents of Treviso province have a higher rate of cancer than in other parts of the Veneto region and Italy because of higher exposure to chemicals used in grape growing.

His post was titled “Bolle contro balle: il Prosecco tra allarmismi e verità dei numeri”: “Bubbles vs. Bullshit: Prosecco, alarmism, and truth in numbers.”

Late last year, the tabloid-style news show “Report,” which is produced by one of Italy’s nationalized networks, aired a controversial segment on Prosecco growers and their use of chemical sprays in the vineyards. In the segment, the producers allege that residents of Treviso province are regularly exposed to air-borne pesticides and herbicides because of aggressive spraying by growers. As the market for Prosecco has grown in recent years and more and more farmland has been planted to vine, they claim, cases of cancer have also grown.

Whether or not the claims are true, the show was a textbook example of tabloid journalism. Just have a look at the clip here: even English-language readers will recognize the hallmarks of the tabloid style.

The episode brought to mind the infamous Velenitaly scandal from 2008. (The epithet Velenitaly is a portmanteau of veleno, meaning poison, and Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair held in Verona.) A writer for the popular Italian magazine L’Espresso falsely claimed that there was widespread use of toxic and highly dangerous chemicals in the production of Italian wine. His allegations were later proved unfounded.

Because of my personal connection to Prosecco country (I lived and worked there for many years), I have followed the grassroots campaign to raise awareness of pesticide and herbicide use in Treviso province for many years now. I subscribe, for example, to Gianluigi Salvador’s email newsletter: he is a World Wide Fund for Nature delegate in the Veneto and he writes regularly about environmental degradation in the province.

From personal experience over many years, I’ve seen the Prosecco landscape change radically as the demand for Prosecco throughout the world has grown significantly (when I first traveled in Prosecco country playing music in the late 1980s, few in America knew what Prosecco was; today it is ubiquitous in my country). There’s no doubt that there is something wrong when people are liberally spraying vineyards that lie adjacent to schools and homes (I’ve seen that, too). But I have yet to see anyone who has hard data to support the claim that there is a higher incidence of cancer in the province because of increased spraying and use of pesticides and herbicides.

By no means am I an expert in the field and I’m not saying that there isn’t a correlation (my gut tells me that there is).

The one thing I know for sure is that “tabloid wine writing” is probably the saddest form of oenography. And it’s one of the topics I’ll be covering in my seminars later this year at UniSG in the Master’s in Wine Culture program.

Thanks for reading…

Whites really thrilled me at Marchesi di Grésy. Reds weren’t bad either…

San Diegans and Southern Californians, please come out and taste with me and Giovanni Arcari at our SoloUva Franciacorta tasting at Jaynes Gastropub this Saturday (February 25) at 4! We have a great crowd coming (be sure to reserve if you plan to stay for dinner afterwards). Here are the details. Thank you for your support. We’ll be pouring exclusively from magnum!

alberto-di-gresy-marchesiThe sun had already set after I braved rush-hour traffic in downtown Alba (worse that you might imagine) and found my way to the Marchesi di Grésy winery late last year after I finished up my teaching duties at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in nearby Pollenzo.

Honestly, the last thing I was expecting when I tasted with Alberto di Grésy (above) was a series of mini-verticals of his extraordinary white wines. But the marquis greeted me with a wonderful tasting of current vintages of his Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay side-by-side with wines that stretched back to 1999.

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my lifetime to have tasted old vintages of Gaja’s Gaia & Rey Chardonnay on my occasions. The wines selected by Alberto were yet another example, to my mind, of Langa’s breathtaking potential in producing long-lived and extremely nuanced white wines.

langhe-bianco-gresy1999 Langhe Bianco Chardonnay! Wow, what a wine! Very fresh with just a slight but delightful note of oxidation, rich in texture but lithe on the palate with notes of stone fruit and flowers.

I loved this wine especially. But aside from a faulty bottle, there wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch.

Collectors with the foresight to cellar Alberto’s whites certainly won’t be surprised by my discovery. And from what Alberto told me (and what I’ve been able to verify on WineSearcher), you can find them in the U.S. in certain markets. It’s hard to believe that they land here for around $25.

marchesi-di-gresy-barbaresco-camp-grosYou may not be surprised by how much I liked Alberto’s white wines. And anyone who follows Italian wine seriously knows the place that his reds hold in the Pantheon of great wines from Italy.

The 2005 Camp Gros was astounding, still very young in its evolution but already beginning to show its maturity thanks, no doubt, to the ripe vintage. Arguably, it performed the best in the flight of reds but it was just one of the stunning entries in the flight he shared.

winery-marchesi-di-gresyAnd if you follow Italian wine closely, you don’t need me to tell you that the estate produces classic-style wines from one of the best growing sites in Barbaresco. For those who aren’t aware, Martinenga is one “panel” in the Asili-Martinenga-Rabajà triptych, the holy trinity of Barbaresco (for people like me).

But there is one revelation that I can offer here: the Langhetti pronounce Grésy as a French name. In my experience, they say greh-ZEE (and not GREH-zee). In the U.S., the Italianate pronunciation has become the norm. But on the ground in Langa, they say greh-ZEE.

It’s kind of like Quintarelli’s Alzero (pronounced correctly AHL-zeh-roh and not ahl-ZEH-roh) or Tucci’s timpano (properly pronounced TEEM-pah-noh and not teem-PAH-noh). Americans have been pronouncing them erroneously for so long that the pronunciations are now accepted as legitimate, however alternate, scansions.

Quibbling aside, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Alberto, a lovely man, and his cellar master, the inimitable Jeffrey Chilcott. Super fun people and exceedingly gifted tasters thanks to their natural abilities and immeasurable experience.

Alberto’s taste in music ain’t half bad either…

The Texasification of America and the passing of Jane Roe

planned-parenthood-texasAbove: a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston. The health centers offer reproductive health care to economically challenged citizens, including the Parzen family.

Texans are renowned for believing outlandish things.

Back in August 2012, as Texas geared up for the presidential election, the Lubbock County Judge, the Honorable Tom Head, told MyFoxLubbock.com that President Obama:

    “‘[is] going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?’ Head asked, according to MyFoxLubbock.com. ‘I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.'”
    “Head went on to predict that if that happens, Obama will ‘send in U.N. troops.'”
    “‘I don’t want ’em in Lubbock County. OK. So I’m going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say ‘you’re not coming in here,’ he said, adding he wants ‘trained, equipped, seasoned veteran officers to back me.'”

Read the post I’m quoting on FoxNews.com.

Back in July 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked the Texas State Guard to monitor the U.S. military training operation known as “Jade Helm 15.” He was reportedly concerned, like many Texans, that the exercise could be an a veiled effort to disarm state residents and set the stage for a federal or perhaps foreign takeover.

    “‘During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,’ Abbott wrote to Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty, saying he expects ‘regular updates on the progress and safety of the Operation.'”

Read about his reaction to Jade Helm 15 in Texas on the Texas Tribune website.

When Trump America came up in conversation at a dinner party in Houston on Friday night, one of the guests asked rhetorically (and approvingly): “Why should we [taxpayers] be paying for people’s abortions? And why should we be paying for abortions in foreign countries?”

She was referring to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and to President Trump’s executive order executive order that reinstated “a Republican policy that would ban U.S. aid to groups that provide or promote abortions overseas. Known as the ‘Mexico City policy’ or the ‘global gag rule,’ the measure came one day after the 44th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion across the country.”

Read about it on The Daily Caller (as linked to by FoxNews.com, which devoted a scant 60 words to the executive order).

Over the weekend, we learned that Norma McCorvey passed away. She was the “Jane Roe” in “Roe v. Wade,” the landmark Supreme Court case that made abortion legal in the United States.

Few will remember that McCorvey was born in Louisiana but raised in Houston. She was living in Texas in 1973 when the case was decided by the court (it was first argued in 1971). She died on Saturday in Katy, Texas about 30 minutes from where we live. She was 69.

Read about her life in the Wikipedia entry devoted to her. While her case was pending, she had the child (and never had an abortion). Ultimately, she became an anti-abortion activist.

Before I moved to Texas in 2008, I didn’t realize how much of what happens in Texas affects and has historically affected the other states of the union.

Remember when a single (Obama-appointed) federal judge in Texas granted a preliminary injunction that blocked Obama’s overtime eligibility regulation? It feels like a lifetime ago but it actually happened in November 2016 (Politico).

After Obama took office in 2009, the state of Texas “sued his administration at least 48 times, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of state data — a point of pride for the state’s Republican leaders” (Texas Tribune).

Sadly, so much of what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. And it looks like we are in store for at least four years of Trump America’s Texasification of our nation. The bookends of Norma McCorvey’s life seem unheimlich in the light of our country’s new direction. The tragedy is that some Texans often believe the most darned things…

How do you pronounce Cortese? The latest episode in the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project

Southern Californians: please come out and taste my favorite Franciacorta with me and my bromance Giovanni on Saturday, February 25 at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego. And Houstonians, registration for seminars at the Taste of Italy festival March 6 is filling up fast and some seminars are already completely full (when you click the “register” button, you will see the individual seminar registration options). I’ll be leading 4 tastings that day. Please join me!

The Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project was born after I got fed up with hearing self-proclaimed Italian wine experts offer “alternate” performances of ampelonyms.

The idea was to feature native speakers who live and work in the appellations and who grow the grapes. Who better than them to share their indigenous pronunciations? Since its inception, I’ve filmed and posted a number of episodes and many growers and winemakers have submitted videos (I encourage producers to send me videos; just PM me and I’ll give you a few notes on how to shoot them). The more the merrier and creativity and colorful videos are always welcome!

In this latest installment, Gavi grower and producer Paola Rosina of La Mesma offers an indigenous pronunciation of the grape name Cortese. We met up in Austin at the Slow Wine tasting there last month.

Thank you, Paola! And thank you for coming to Texas to share your superb wines!

Buon weekend, yall!


Sex, drugs, and foie gras: Pain, longing, and desire in food blogging

paolo-and-francescaAbove: “[The Murder of] Paolo and Francesca,” painting by 19th-century Italian artist Carlo Arienti (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons).

Unless you entirely missed out on the Western canon, you have surely read about Paolo and Francesca, the star-crossed lovers who Dante and Virgil encounter in the fifth canto of the Inferno. It’s one of the most widely represented tales throughout Western literature, figurative arts, and music. Just do an image search for “Paolo e Francesca” and you’ll find hundreds of images conceived by some of the greatest artists in the history of humankind.

It’s not hard to understand why women and men have found their story so compelling for hundreds of years. The tragic arc of their lives (real and imagined) was shaped by their own lustful undoing. And we humans simply can’t get enough of that sort of thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Paolo and Francesca as I prepare my teaching plan for the seminar in Food and Wine Journalism that I’ll be leading this fall for the Master’s in Food and Wine Culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont.

My colleague Lydia Itoi will be co-teaching the seminar with me: She’ll cover food journalism and writing and I’ll handle food blogging and social media (I met Lydia last month in Palo Alto and I like her a lot).

Scanning and scrolling through some of the most popular food blogs in the world today (you probably don’t need me to tell you which ones), you quickly realize that the stories often most coveted by writers and editors aren’t about food at all. Many of them (although not all) are about the tragic arcs of restaurateurs’ lives and their lustful undoing. In many ways, restaurateurs are the rock stars of a generation ago in the mind of the entertainment-hungry public. The pattern is nearly identical: The meteoric rise, the stress and crisis caused by unmitigated success and excess, and the inevitable downward spiral.

The origins of pain, longing, and [mimetic] desire in food blogging today stretch back to early Greek tragedy and beyond. Yes, this trend in food writing today has also been molded by the rise of reality television. And yes, there are technical, societal, and cultural factors that have contributed to these phenomena as well.

But looking at these currents from an epistemological perspective, I ask myself: How did we get from Betty Crocker’s tips for grilling to Page Six stories about alcohol-fueled orgies at a celebrity chef’s Manhattan restaurant? What role does food culture and food writing play in our ethos — personal and national?

This is just one of the topics I’ll be covering in my seminar. Stay tuned for more…

Click here to learn more about the Master’s in Food and Wine Culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont.

Why I’m not going to Vinitaly this year: because I am a Jew.

vinitaly-easter-passoverAbove: Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona (images via my friend Fabio Ingrosso’s Flickr Creative Commons).

Early this morning Texas time, my friend and University of Gastronomic Sciences colleague Alessandro Morichetti tagged me in a post he shared on Facebook: it’s a call-to-arms for this year’s Intravino meeting at Vinitaly, Italy’s annual wine trade fair held in Verona. Intravino is Italy’s most popular wine blog and the event is one of the most fun and one of the few gatherings I genuinely look forward to at the fair. (Check out the video from last year’s affair to get a sense of its shared goliard spirit.)

Sadly, I won’t be attending Vinitaly this year. The reason for this is that Erev Pesach (the first night of the Passover) falls on the second day of the fair, which is scheduled for April 9-13.

I’m hardly what you could call an observant Jew. I was raised in a “conservative” bourgeois Jewish milieu in San Diego, California in the 1970s and 80s. Like my father and my older and younger brothers, I became a bar mitzvah (son of the commandment [or law]). But my family leaned heavily toward a secular expression of Jewish culture. Over the years, I’ve been connected to Judaism through music and my own scholarly interests. My adoptive paternal grandfather was a rabbi and his family has also been a big part of my Jewish life. But I am a secular as opposed to observant Jew, meaning that I identify ethnically as a Jew while not religiously observing the commandments of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses).

vinitalyAbove: not “do” (2) bianchi (white wines) but “dodici” (12) at a Vinitaly tasting. The fair is our industry’s largest and most important gathering each year.

In our home today in Houston, we are raising our daughters in Tracie’s family’s church. They attend a Methodist preschool in our neighborhood and we often attend services at Tracie’s father’s church, where he serves as pastor (Methodist).

But the Passover has become a favorite family holiday of ours and over the last five years, since Georgia P, our oldest, was born, we’ve either attended a Seder (the ceremonial Passover dinner) hosted by one of my family’s many Texas relatives (in Austin or Houston) or we’ve hosted a seder in our own home (in Austin and Houston). And my mother, who will be 84 this year, has come to Houston for the last two years to celebrate the Passover at a Seder led by me. I would hate to tell her that we’re skipping the Seder this year.

When I was “coming up” in the wine trade in New York in the 2000s, I missed the Passover twice because of Vinitaly. At the time, I was working for a restaurant and importing group that required my presence at the fair. That was really tough. But it was one of those sacrifices I felt I had to make at the time. Today, I run my own consulting business and can afford to skip Vinitaly.

But this year, with the rise of anti-Semitic and racially charged rhetoric in Europe and the United States, the Passover and our Passover Seder mean more to me than ever. The Vinitaly organizers’ insensitivity to the Jewish calendar is nothing new. But such thoughtlessness has a new significance in the age of Trump, Le Pen, and the Freedom Party, not to mention the North League, which claims Verona as part of its putative Padania nation.

President Trump neglected to mention the Jews in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement this year and his top advisor is the former editor of a website that regularly publishes anti-Semitic content. Three weeks into his presidency, some polls indicate that many Americans support his executive order calling for religious and racial profiling.

This year at our house, while many of my colleagues will be tasting and networking at Vinitaly, my family will be celebrating the Passover and everything it represents: freedom of religion and freedom from ethnic persecution. In honoring a Jewish tradition that stretches back to the Middle Ages, when Jews were subject to institutionalized persecution and widespread racism in Europe, the door of our house will be open to any and all visitors and any and all will be welcomed at our Seder table.

Hag sameach, everyone! Happy festival!

Two Italian whites that really knocked us out… (fight the power, fight the three-tier system)

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! San Diegans and Southern Californians: please come out and taste my favorite Franciacorta with me and my bromance Giovanni on Saturday, February 25 at Jaynes Gastropub. And Houstonians, registration for seminars at the Taste of Italy festival March 6 is now open (click register and you will see the individual seminar registration options). I’ll be leading 4 tastings that day. Please join me!

furlani-bianco-alpinoAs much as the Houston and greater Texas wine scenes continue to grow and flourish, New York and California are still lightyears ahead of us in terms of the new Italian wines that importers are bringing to this country. It’s one of the reasons that I ask my favorite out-of-state American wine retailers to select and send me a mixed case of wines every year when the weather permits shipping to Texas.

It’s illegal for out-of-state retailers to ship here unless… the customer (like me) has access to a third-party shipper. I know that the thought of freedom to purchase wines from out-of-state is venomous to many passionate lovers (read lickspittles) of the hallowed “three-tier system.” And I apologize in advance for my transgression of their cherished and firmly entrenched hegemony.

But real women and men like to explore, experiment, and enjoy real wines and not just the wines that a bunch of old farty white men in a boardroom in Dallas Miami have decided they should enjoy.

A month or so ago, we received a mixed case from California that included the two wines above. And wow, what wines! Tracie P and I swooned over both bottles.

The Matteo Furlani Bianco Alpino is a blend of native Dolomite grapes that have been grown without the use of chemicals, spontaneously fermented in cement, aged in demijohn, and clarified by placing the demijohns in the snow outside the winery. The white fruit in this wine was mouthwatering and its freshness and low alcohol kept you coming back for another taste. Really lovely, especially at its around $25 price tag.

The Cacciagalli Aorivola comes from the Italian antipodes: Caianello township in “upper Caserta” (Campania). Tracie and I stumbled upon Caianello proper many years ago when we were desperately looking for something to eat (Tracie was pregnant with Lila Jane at the time) and we discovered a wonderful (and very famous) cheese monger there.

This 100 percent, biodynamically farmed Falangina is labeled as Roccamonfina IGT, a high-lying appellation with volcanic subsoils. The minerality in this wine was ELECTRIC. As odd as a synæsthesia as it may sound, it was like touching your tongue to the tabs of a 9-volt battery… but in a good way. And the wine’s saltiness was offset brilliantly by its luscious stone fruit. Another winner that really knocked us out, also around $25…

Texans, fear not: there are ways to circumvent the vinous tyranny of good-ol-boy Texas wine distribution (now based in Florida, home to even more farty, gun-toting, vote-restricting white people).

Fight the power, fight the three-tier system… Fight Texas’ un-American, anti-small-business out-of-state shipping restrictions…

Taste SoloUva Franciacorta with me and Giovanni down by the school yard: Feb. 25 in San Diego

So geeked for the launch of my 2017 campaign with my bromance Giovanni and the SoloUva group (Franciacorta)!

jeremy-parzen-giovanni-arcariDue to forces beyond our control, we had to cancel the Sunday, February 26 event in Los Angeles.

But the February 25 event in San Diego is DEFINITELY on. Here are the details. We hope to see you there!

SoloUva tasting with
winemaker Giovanni Arcari
and Italian wine blogger Jeremy Parzen
Saturday, February 25
4:00-6:00 p.m.
@ Jaynes Gastropub (San Diego)
$25 per person
includes light bites by Jaynes

Jaynes Gastropub
4677 30th St.
San Diego CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
Google map

Registration not required but please shoot me an RSVP email
to let me know that you are coming so that we can get a headcount.

So what is the SoloUva method anyway?

SoloUva is a method whereby classic-method sparkling wines are produced without the traditional addition of cane sugar to provoke fermentation or to top up the bottle before the wine is released. Instead, reserved grape must is used. Grapes alone go into the wines. As a result, the wines are a pure expression of the terroir where they are produced, not least of all because nothing extraneous is added to the wine.


In the 1960s, winemakers began producing classic-method sparkling wine in Franciacorta using the French model.
Continue reading

Crowd sourcing: what is wine writing? what are the functions of wine writing?

best-wine-writersOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun writing a series of posts about the morality and ethics of wine writing over on the UniSG blog (it’s part of the Master’s in Wine Culture program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piemdont where I began teaching last year and will be teaching three English-language seminars this year).

Before I continue, I wanted to take a step back and start to formulate a list of “functions of wine writing.” It’s inspired in part by (although not based on) Roman Jakobson’s “functions of language” (which I highly encourage you to read if you’re not familiar with his work).

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m hoping that the wine writing community will help out with expanding it and making it more precise. Please feel free to comment with your suggestions. And thanks in advance for your help with this work in progress!

My list of “functions” is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. Please help me refine it…



– poetry
– narrative
– music


– painting
– pottery
– engraving
– photography


– ampelography
– viticulture
– enology


– appellation regulations
– adulteration/counterfeiting laws
– shipping laws


– labeling
– fact sheets
– tasting notes
– scores/ratings


– copywriting
– marketing/promotional materials


– guide books
– long-form essays
– monographics
– cartography
– blogging
– micro-blogging
– podcasts


– writing about wine writing

New York Stories: Vino Italiano, Foley Sq. student protest, Lilia, and a great sommelier at Terroir

Posting in a hurry this morning in Manhattan as I get ready to head back to Texas and my girls. But here are a few highlights from my demi-week in the city…

italian-wine-week-new-yorkMonday I was very fortunate to be included among the guests and tasters at Vino Italiano 2017, the annual Italian Trade Commission wine event. The organizers really did a great job of bringing top wine professionals and writers to New York for the seminars and grand tasting. It was great to catch up with some of the top people working in our filed like Alan Tardi, Meg Houston Maker, and Rebecca Murhpy, and Elin McCoy among many others. There were a bunch of high-profile sommeliers from Texas there as well like June Rodil and Thomas Moësse. Great event and great to catch up with so many talented folks.

jon-pack-photographer-new-yorkOn Tuesday, I connected with my good friend Jon Pack (a fellow italophile and an immensely talented photographer) at the student protest in Foley Sq. downtown.

Please check out these photos from the rally.

New York is the city that produced Trump and the city that loathes him most. I spent ten years living here and feel very connected to the people and the place. Even though I can’t really put my finger on it, there’s something very different about the vibe here.

Seeing the students protest and hearing them chant brought tears to my eyes.

lilia-new-york-restaurant-brooklynOne of the restaurants I was most excited to check out was Lilia in Williamsburg. My friend and client Tony in Houston had raved about his dinner there.

I thought the food was terrific, the wine list compact but spot on, and we even had a celebrity sighting (and I ran into a bunch of my friends there as well). Super fun. Williamsburg is SO different from the years when my band used to hit the stage at 3 a.m. at underground raves.

georgia-harrison-sommelier-new-york-terroirAnother highlight from the trip was interacting with sommelier Georgia Harrison at Terroir (Tribeca). Her wine service was super sharp and her recommendations and pairings were truly brilliant. It’s so remarkable to look back over the years and reflect on how interest in wine has grown and blossomed in our country. Georgia (who shares her name with our oldest daughter!) is the face of a brave new generation of extremely gifted wine professionals. I couldn’t have been more impressed by her knowledge and service.

That’s all the news that’s fit to blog about this morning from midtown Manhattan. Now it’s time to get my butt on a plane and back to Houston…