Scenes from the Houston BBQ Festival 2017

Congrats to the organizers of the Houston BBQ Festival on another sold-out show.

A money shot for the Pit Room.

As a pit master once told, there are no smiles in bbq. That’s one of Ray’s BBQ Shack’s smokers.

The Houston bbq A-lister, Killen’s. I’ve never been. The line for this was insane as soon as the fair opened.

Didn’t get to taste but they let me photograph it at Killen’s stand.

Louie Mueller was my own personal money shot. That’s some Texas brisket beef rib right there, folks, let me tell you.

BBQ on a croissant, it’s what’s for breakfast in Houston.

Great show!

Texas Wine Freedom: how Texans and all Americans can help end anti-competitive, un-American shipping policies

Above: the statue of Stephen Austin, founder and “father” of Texas, in the Texas state capitol. Below: the cupola as seen from below. I took both photos in February when I visited the state capital to interview representative Matt Rinaldi in February.

For years, here on my blog and in the Houston Press, I have written about the Texas government’s anti-competitive and un-American retail wine shipping policies. Despite our nation’s Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, Texas still prohibits the shipment of wines to consumers from out of state.

It took a redder-than-red Texas state representative, Matt Rinaldi, Republican from the Dallas area, to have the courage to stand up to the Texas wholesalers lobby and propose a bill in the current legislative session that would right this wrong.

In an interview I did with him for the Houston Press, he called the current policies “ridiculously anti-competitive.”

“We value our freedom first and foremost,” he said. “Government shouldn’t be interfering with that. [Texans] should be given the freedom to do what makes them happy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of anyone else.”

The following message was penned by wine retailer Daniel Posner of New York and shared with me by my good friend and Manhattan wine retailer Jamie Wolff. Wine industry consultant and advocate Tom Wark is the creator of Wine Freedom, a grass-roots initiative devoted to raising awareness of anti-competitive shipping policies currently in place across the U.S.

Thanks for reading. G-d bless Texas and G-d bless America!


Dear Texas Wine Lover,

We need your help to bring Wine Freedom to Texas. 

A bill, HB 2291, would formally allow Texans to receive shipments from out-of-state wine stores and Internet wine retailers.

To help this bill succeed, we MUST get a hearing on the bill scheduled. You can help by emailing or calling:

• Representative John Kuempel – Chairman of the House Licensing and
Administrative Procedures Committee

Ask him to schedule a hearing on HB 2291

The best way to do this is by visiting the TEXAS WINE FREEDOM page:

Information is on this site allowing you to easily:

• Email or call Representative Kuempel
• Sign up for Alerts and news on the bill
• Sign a petition supporting the bill.

You only need to tell Representative Kuempel the following:

“I live in (name of city) and I support HB 2291, the Wine Shipping Bill in your committee. I urge you to schedule a committee hearing on the bill.”

Taking action now is critical since the Texas legislature will not meet for another two years and this is your only chance to change the laws on wine shipping in Texas.

Passover 5th Question: why on this night do we drink Manischewitz wine coolers?

When it comes to the Passover’s “Four Questions,” I’d like to propose a new and fifth one:

On all nights we drink organically farmed, spontaneously fermented, additive- and enzyme-free wines made from grapes harvested under a full moon in a vineyard along the Slovenian-Italian border, and on this night Manischewitz?

After all, and with all due respect, Manischewitz is really a wine cooler, a wine to which sugar — a lot of sugar — has been added.

And btw, that sugar has the potential to make the wine more palatable to children. Sadly, I speak from personal experience when I write this: someone whom I know and love dearly told me that his path toward severe alcoholism started with those thimble-sized cups of wine that he used to throw back when we were kids at shul.

Click here for my post today for the Houston Press on “What Makes Wines Kosher for Passover and Where to Find Them.”

“We [Italians] need to tell the stories of our wines ourselves,” says celeb sommelier Luca Gardini

One of the highlights of the Corriere della Sera food and wine festival in Milan over the weekend was the presentation of the newly released Corriere guide to “Italy’s top 100 wines and grape growers.”

Those are the guide’s editors (above, from left), Luciano Ferraro, the paper’s managing editor and its wine columnist, and celebrity sommelier Luca Gardini.

A who’s who of the Italian wine trade was there, including Arturo Ziliani, Leonardo Raspini, Angelo Gaja, and Elda Felluga, who was named the new guide’s “woman of the year.”

Luciano spoke at length about what sets the Corriere guide apart from the other mainstream almanacs of Italian wine. The editors don’t score or review the wines, he said. Instead, they “tell the stories” of 100 wineries and winemakers whose work shapes the Italian wine world today.

Where other editors, including some of their higher profile American counterparts, inform the reader “about what’s inside the bottle,” he explained, he and Luca strive to tell you about what goes into making that bottle.

I was really impressed by Luca’s short but well-honed message.

“We can’t just let other people tell the stories of our wines,” said the popular critic and editor (who scores wines in his own books). “We [Italians] need to tell the stories of our wines ourselves.”

I couldn’t help but think to myself: our bottles, ourselves. It’s a facile analogy based more in assonance than in symmetry. But there’s a wonderful nugget of wisdom in what Luca shared yesterday at the event.

Over the years, as the Italian wine renaissance has taken off in the U.S., the voice of American critics has sometimes driven perceptions of Italian wines in unexpected — although not always unwelcome — ways. I’m with Luca in believing that we all need to listen to each other, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Writing on the fly this afternoon from a very windy, somewhat cloudy, but stunningly beautiful spring day in Montalcino. Stay tuned…

Congratulations Talia Kleinplatz, author of Two for the Bar and winner of #CucinaBlogAward

Fun times last night at the Corriere della Sera Cucina Blog Awards in Milan where Talia Kleinplatz, author of the awesome Two for the Bar, took home the award for Best Wine and Spirits blog.

My good friend Talia Baiocchi, editor and founder of PUNCH, was as disappointed as me not to win but it was great to connect in Milan and to get to know the other Talia. We had a blast sitting with her and another lovely friend, Elizabeth Minchilli, who was also in attendance.

From left in the photo above, that’s Luciano Ferraro, wine critic for Corriere della Sera (a writer I admire greatly); Angela Frenda, food editor for the paper; Talia, who won the award; and Francesco Zonin, scion of the Zonin winery group and underwriter of the awards (man, that Francesco is one tall glass of water!).

Thanks to everyone for all the support and kind words in the days leading up to the award ceremony. It was a bummer not to win but it was so much fun to come to Milan and see so many friends, including folks from Texas, from my NYC days, my school days in Italy, and so many more. I even got to have lunch with the celebrated Milanese writer, editor, and provocateur Pietro Cheli, who was as hilarious as he was thought-provoking.

Thanks especially to my great friend Giovanni Contrada, who dressed me for the occasion, and my bromance Giovanni Arcari, who always stands by me like a brother, in all things.

It’s a rainy, cloudy Sunday today in Milan but I’m looking forward to a date with the city and dinner with some old friends tonight.

Buona domenica a tutti! Happy Sunday, yall! 


Ungrafted classic-method Fortana, groovy Umbrian Sangiovese, and a favorite Australian in Houston

From the department of “in case you were concerned I’m not drinking well in Texas”…

It just goes to show the seemingly endless and encyclopedic breadth of Italian wine: until last week, I had never tasted a dry expression of the Fortana grape from Emilia. I had tasted a lot of sweet Fortana in Parma province: when vinified as amabile (sweet), the category is a classic pairing for Culatello di Zibello (and I believe the wine is also used to rinse the ham before it is aged). But last week I learned that dry Fortana is regularly produced in Ferrara province, where the sandy soils near the Adriatic allow growers to cultivate ungrafted (i.e., pre-phylloxera) vines.

Winemaker Mirco Mariotti was in town with his importer Ernest Ifkovitz of Portovino and his classic-method Fortana was nothing short of utterly delicious. I believe it lands in the U.S. with by-the-glass pricing. And Mirco’s website, I’m happy to report, is meticulously translated into English. Bravo, Mirco!

I can’t find any web presence for the winery or wines of Marco Merli, who told me that he is a resolute natural winemaker when I met him last week with Ernest and their Texas distributor Rootstock (also absent from the internets).

When I asked him about why he chose the path of natural winemaking over the shmate business (an Umbrian mainstay industry), he told me that he was inspired by the enologist he initially hired to help him make wines from family-owned vineyards.

“I disagreed with basically everything he did to the wines,” he said, “and so I decided to make them myself.”

Marco’s wines have sparked the attention of natural wine observers in Italy in recent years and rightly so: this monovarietal wine was lip-smackingly good, with that juicy red stone fruit character and zinging acidity that define great Sangiovese. I really loved it.

I was so glad to meet Marco and Mirco and taste these wonderful and soulful wines. For both winemakers, it was a first-time visit to Texas and they both seemed a little bit overwhelmed by the experience. But it’s so great to see courageous importers like Ernest bringing small-scale, thoughtful, and genuine winemakers to our state, where the two big distributors continue to expand their role as the Slugworths of wine.

I’m overjoyed that venerated Italian wine authority Alfonso Cevola, the Dallas-based Import Wine Director at Southern Glazer’s (America’s largest distributor), was wrong when he predicted in January of last year “the demise of the mid-size distributor… They have the lifespan of a tse-tse fly,” he wrote.

Gauging from its track record and the growing number of their wines I’m seeing in the Austin and Houston markets, it would seem that my friends at Rootstock are doing just dandy.

In other news, I was delighted to find this moderately priced bottle of 2015 Tyrrell’s last night at one of Houston’s best wine bars, Camerata.

We were all curious to see if the new wine director there, Chris Poldoian, could maintain the verve and continuity of his predecessor’s program. And I am happy to report that this artisanal-focused list continues to keep us drinking well.

For those who aren’t familiar with Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Sémillon, it’s one of those classic examples of what Jancis Robinson famously called “Australia’s gift to the wine world.” It was salty and rich on the palate with reserved layers of nuttiness and dry fruit that I believe will only continue to emerge as this long-lived wine ages. Great wine! And great to see it in the Houston market.

I’ll be taking a short break from the blog this week as I head to Italy for the Corriere della Sera’s Cucina Blog Awards ceremony in Milan on Saturday. I’m happy to report that my blog has been nominated in the “best wine and spirits” category and I’m psyched to see all my friends in the world’s fashion capital (and one of my favorite cities). Wish me luck and wish me speed! I’ll see you on the other side…

Parzen family activism in Trump America: here’s to 7 years of Obamacare, the law of the land

Last month, after our congressman John Culberson refused to hold a town meeting and opted instead to speak to the Village Republican Women’s Group at the Lakeside Country Club in Houston, Tracie P (right) attended a protest outside the venue. I took care of our daughters, ages 3 and 5, that day.

On Friday evening, the Parzen family and the Levy-Kelly family — the whole Houston mispucha — raised a glass of organically farmed Prosecco col fondo to celebrate the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Seven years and one day after he signed the bill into law, a Republican president and a Republican-controlled congress were unable to “repeal and replace” as they had promised. And President Trump failed to deliver on one of his signature campaign promises.

At the end of the day, a few hours before we toasted with our Glera-filled glasses, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared, “Obamacare is the law of the land.”

Here on my blog, I began posting our family’s vehement opposition to then putative Republican candidate Donald Trump back in June of last year. Since that time, I’ve begun posting regularly about his bigoted, hate-filled campaign platform and his racist policies and attitudes since taking office in January of this year.

Since the inauguration, my wife Tracie P (above, right) has become a devoted activist: she organizes monthly meetings of her women’s political activism group in our home and she has repeatedly visited the office of our representative in congress, John Culberson, a rank-and-file Republican, not to mention the offices of Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

On Saturday, I took our daughters, ages 3 and 5, for the day and Tracie attended Culberson’s long overdue town hall here in Houston.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston’s paper of record: “police estimated about 500 people stood in a line [for the town hall] that snaked around the building when the room reached its capacity of 700. Some of those refused admittance were frustrated, shouting, ‘Let us in! Let us in!'”

Parzen family activism will not cease until our government abandons its racist, inhumane, un-Christian, un-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and un-American pursuit of its religious-based travel bans, useless walls on our borders, Russophilia, lower taxes for the wealthy, dismantling of regulation to benefit big business at the cost of everyday Americans, and undermining of the Affordable Care Act — the latter, a policy that actually helps the economically challenged white people who delivered Trump to power.

And Tracie and I will continue to teach our children that the Laws of Moses and the Word of Jesus Christ teach us to love, respect, and aid our fellow humans in time of need regardless of color, religion, ethnicity, or creed.

Earlier this month, Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa notoriously tweeted: “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

My parents were “somebody else’s babies,” children of immigrants. I was the child of “somebody else’s babies” and my children are the grandchildren of “somebody else’s babies.”

Evidently, my children’s ethnicity doesn’t align with Republican ideals and values. And the Parzen family is not going to stand for that.

Clos Cibonne 2015 Tibouren: what a great vintage for this wine!

Randall Grahm first poured me Clos Cibonne Côtes de Provence Tibouren when we visited over lunch six years ago in LA. He had picked it up at a southland wine shop while he was working the market. And he seemed to take as much delight in drinking the wine as he did turning me on to it.

Since that time, it’s become (when available in our market) one of the standbys and favorites at our dinner table. It usually lands in Texas when the hype around rosé wines begins to rev up each year.

We enjoy every vintage but this year, with the current release 2015, this wine has what the Italians call the marcia in più, that extra gear in the gearbox.

The fruit in this bottle last night was so vibrant, so transparent and pure, that it just seemed to sing in the glass. What a wine and what a great vintage!

Over the years, we’ve come to know and love the classic, elegant oxidative style of this cask-aged rosé. But in this year’s release, the fruit really jumps out — especially on the palate.

My recommendation: run don’t walk to your favorite wine shop and buy all you can.

So much to tell today and so little time. Thanks for being here this week and buon weekend, ya’ll!

Thoughts and prayers for our sisters and brothers in London…

I was trading emails with the London-based editor of a book I translated yesterday when the news of the attack broke and she went dark. I don’t believe she was anywhere near Westminster and I trust that she’s okay. But I still haven’t heard back from her.

Our thoughts and prayers go out today for our sisters and brothers in London…

Image via Hernán Piñera’s Flickr (Creative Commons).

A Slow Wine call to action: support earthquake-affected wines from Marche, Umbria, and Abruzzo by buying them in your hometown

The following is my post this week for the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UniSG) blog. I’ll be teaching (English-language) seminars for the Master’s in Wine Culture and Master’s in Food Culture programs there in July and November of this year.

If you ever traveled to the Italian regions of Marche (Marches), Umbria, or Abruzzo, you know that part of their charm is how underdeveloped they are.

Especially when compared with the once pristine wine growing areas of the north, for example, where industrial expansion has radically reshaped the landscape over the last three decades, these regions look very much as they did in the post-Second World War era. And in many zones, some would say that they resemble a 19th-century Italy and a time before the country’s meteoric industrialization under Fascism.

If you’re not Italian, you may not know that the Marche, Umbria, and Abruzzo are favorite destinations for the country’s enonauts: wine lovers who enjoy leisurely drives and winery visits there, mini-vacations that nearly always culminate with the purchase of bottles at the wineries themselves.

It’s a long-standing tradition among Italians and in recent years, as wine appreciation has expanded among young people (thanks in part to the renewed interest in wine education there), it has become more and more common to see young couples and families enjoy leisure time there.

After all, some of Italy’s most beautiful countryside is found in these three regions, the restaurants are relatively inexpensive (and the food is delicious), and the wine affordable. And there’s just something extra special about bringing home wines from one of these trips and enjoying it at home.

But today winemakers and their families in central and central Adriatic Italy are facing one of the biggest crises in a generation.

The bottomline: in the wake of the severe seismic activity that began there last August and a second wave that took place in October, the number of tourists visiting those three regions has fallen drastically. The drop is due in part to the fact that infrastructure has been heavily damaged there and some favorite tourist spots are inaccessible. But it’s also due to would-be tourists reluctance to visit areas that have been plagued by seismic activity.

As my UniSG colleague Fabio Giavedoni, co-editor of the Slow Wine guide, pointed out in a post yesterday on the Slow Wine blog, the number of visitors to the Museum at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (in the heart of Umbria, above), for example, has fallen by 70 percent.

As a result, people simply aren’t buying wines at the wineries. Aside from a few instances were tanks were damaged, the winemakers themselves haven’t suffered any major damage. After all, the wineries are nearly all located in the countryside, away from the hilltop villages where the damage was worst. But the fall in regional tourism has deeply impacted their direct sales.

As Fabio encourages us in his post, one way that we can support winemakers from this region is by buying their wines in the cities and towns where we normally reside.

I hope you will join, Fabio, me and my wife Tracie P in opening bottles of Pecorino, Passerina, Verdicchio, Sagrantino, Trebbiano Spoletino, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, and Montepulciano (just to name some of the great wines from Central Italy) in coming months as we celebrate the wines and show our solidarity for the winemakers and their families.

Thanks for reading (and drinking Central Italian grapes).

Image via Wikipedia.