first Alba truffles of the year @TonyVallone

I snapped this photo today at lunch at Tony’s in Houston, the first Alba truffles I’ve seen this year.

Tony — my friend and client — talked about how the truffles are arriving early this year because of drought conditions over the summer in Italy.

There is no food in the world with a greater aura. (Does anyone get my Latin paronomasia?)

Ratti old school Nebbiolo, worth the extra bucks in Texas

It’s the times we live in: connectivity and virtual media have leveled the playing field for wine pricing in our country.

Sommelier Rory and I see it all the time on the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles: a guest is seated, she/he looks at the wine list, and then immediately compares the prices of the wines with their retail price listings on

Like combing your hair on the floor of a restaurant, comparing wine prices while out for dinner is one of those things that is regrettably tolerated in society today.

I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing WineSearcher these days (at home and not in restaurants) because I’ve been writing about mostly under-$25 wines for the Houston Press food and wine blog.

A quick search this morning for one of my favorite expressions of young Nebbiolo — Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti — reveals that here in Texas I pay up to $10 more per bottle than my friends in California (my friend Ceri Smith, super cool Italian wine lady, sells it for $21 at her shop Biondivino in San Francisco; $28 is the lowest I can find it in Texas).

Other than the fact that the virtual monopoly of the big distributors and the greed of the Texas wine brokerage system often adds to the cost of favorite wines, there’s really no reason why we should have to pay more here in the Lone Star state. But I love this wine so much it’s well worth the extra ten bucks.

The other night, Tracie P and I brought a bottle over to friends Misty and Nathan’s house (remember Nathan’s ribs paired with Nebbiolo, back when Tracie P was still Tracie B?).

Nathan had marinated some skirt steak, giving the beef a tangy note that played beautifully with the earthy, salty undertones of the Ratti Nebbiolo, which made from 30-year-old vines grown in the sandy subsoils of Roero and macerated for under a week (according to the winery’s website), giving the wine gentle tannic structure.

Where Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo d’Alba (a top under-$25 wine for me) tends toward bright fruit (especially for the 2009), Ratti’s always leans toward earth and mushroom. They’re both old school expressions of the variety but Produttori del Barbaresco’s can be more lean and show brighter red and berry fruit while Ratti’s digs in with a little more muscle and a lot more barnyard. I love them both…

These days, it’s hard to imagine the pre-WineSearcher world and it’s hard to resist the urge to compare prices around the country. But when it comes to Nebbiolo, I just can’t compromise for the sake of bargain hunting. Pork chops at half price still ain’t kosher…

Stinky dirty wine I drank in Piedmont and a note about vitello tonnato

When in Piedmont, do as the Piedmontese do and drink Piedmontese wine. But when I saw the 2004 Trebež by Dario Prinčič (from Oslavia, Friuli) on the list at La Libera (probably the hippest, best see-and-be-seen place to dine in Langa), I couldn’t resist. After all, it was my turn to pick the wines the Barbera 7 was going to be drinking at dinner that night. I know it’s a shame to drink a Friulian wine in Piedmont (and for our red, we drank an a killer 2006 Dolcetto di Dogliani by one of my favorite producers, Cascina Corte), but the mimetic desire created by my browsing of the list simply overwhelmed me. I had to have it.

According to Divino Scrivere, the wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc, obviously vinified with skin contact. (I believe that Trebež is a toponym that refers to a river by the same name, but I’m not sure.) Cloudy and practically brown in color, this is as real, natural, and orange as it gets… not for the refined palate but rather the folks who did real, groovy wines… Acid and gently astringent tannin, apricot and prune flavors, balanced by dirt and rocks. The man, Dario Prinčič, is dry and sour in person, perfectly polite, but never a smile on his face when I taste with him at Vini Veri. His wines, on the other hand, are full of joy and glorious flavor and they are among my all-time favorites.

The night we ate at La Libera, I asked owner/chef Marco to feed us whatever he wanted (which is always the best way to go in any great restaurant, btw). Among other victuals, he made us a tetralogy of classic Piedmontese antipasti, including the sine qua non vitello tonnato (the photo above borders on the pornographic, no?). I love vitello tonnato and eat it whenever and wherever I know it’s good. Today, vitello tonnato is regularly made with mayonnaise but the addition of mayonnaise is a relatively recent adjustment to this recipe. In fact, the sauce prescribed by Artusi (1891) calls for tuna in olive oil, anchovies, lemon juice, and capers in vinegar.

I enjoyed another excellent vitello tonnato, while Tracie P and I were in Barolo in February, at the Osteria Barolando, served on a roll of crusty bread (above).

I love vitello tonnato so much I could most certainly write a dissertation on it — its variants, its history, its epistemological implications… but, alas, I need to make a living…

Chips and pints at Terminal 5 (and the Gaiorny)


After breakfast in Rome and chips and pints for lunch at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we got back to Texas last night safe and sound.

I know that Terminal 5 has had its problems but I’m happy to report that our passage there was seamless and the beer had a great head on it.


The “Gaiorny” of it: our server at Enoclub in Alba used a cart made out of a Gaja “original wooden case” to open the bottle of Bruno Giacosa 2004 Barolo Falletto that we drank with Giacosa enologist Giorgio Lavagna and Franco on Sunday at lunch. Tracie P and I couldn’t help but note the “gairony” of the modern vs. traditional dialectic going on there. It’s fun to walk into Enoclub, Alba’s most chic wine destination, and hear your lunch companion say to the hostess, “we have a reservation under Giacosa.” It raises an eyebrow or two, even in this jaded Hollywood of Italian fine wine.

I began compiling my notes from the Giacosa tasting yesterday on the plane and will post them tomorrow after I catch my breath. Thanks, everyone, for the notes and messages: we have so many tales to tell from our trip but the Giacosa tasting was the “money shot,” as we say in show biz. You might just be surprised to read what Bruno had to say about cultured yeasts, reclassification of Rabajà, and how often he changes his casks.

Stay tuned!

Giacosa responds to Ziliani

Giacosa 2006

Above: Tracie B and I tasted the 2006 Nebbiolo d’Alba and 2006 Barbera d’Alba by Bruno Giacosa the other night with our friend and top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre. We all agreed that the wines showed beautifully. (photo by Tracie B).

Today, on his blog, Franco has posted a message he received from the Giacosa winery, signed by Bruno and Bruna Giacosa. My translation of the letter follows. The message was sent in response to Franco’s recent post on “the events surrounding Dante Scaglione” (see below).

    Dear Mr. Franco Ziliani,

    A few months ago, when it was decided (and certainly not without a heavy heart but after many tastings) that our 2006 vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco would not be bottled, no one thought that such a decision could give rise to so much controversy on behalf of certain persons.

    We believe that it is the full right of a winery to choose its own strategy with complete autonomy and serenity, especially when with the aim of maintaining the high level of quality of the winery’s products.

    In doing so, we had absolutely no intention to denigrate or demonize the 2006 vintage in general. We are sure that many wineries will put excellent products on the market. But in our opinion, the Giacosa winery’s 2006 wines — even though good in quality and entirely respectable — do not reach the excellence in quality to which our clients are accustomed.

    In regard to events surrounding Dante Scaglione, no one has ever dared to question his technical abilities. We all admire him and recognize what he has done as our able collaborator.

    We hope that we have definitively clarified any doubts in this regard because much has been said and much has been written — perhaps too much — often without deep-reaching knowledge of all of the details, especially with regard to the relationship between the winery and its collaborators. It is best for certain details to remain within the confines of “domestic walls.”

    Looking forward to the future, we hope to receive you soon as our guest at the winery to taste the new vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco together. It would be our pleasure.

    Best wishes, Bruno and Bruna Giacosa

Giacosa’s 2006 vintage and Decanter’s slopping blogging

As much as I despise the editors of The New York Post, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when, over a straphanger’s shoulder, I read my favorite example of yellow journalism back in 1999: “The first shiksa wants to be a yenta!” (The article referred to Hillary Clinton’s mention of a Jewish relative.)

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “yellow” journalism but I was so troubled by a recent post by that I felt compelled to post a few reflections of my own.

On Wednesday, one of Decanter’s writers, a certain Suzannah Ramsdale, wrote that “The renowned Piedmontese wine producer Bruno Giacosa has announced that he will not be bottling his 2006 Barolos and Barbarescos… Company oenologist Giorgio Lavagna says that the wine will be sold on as sfuso (unbottled wine) for use by another bottler.”

First of all, this is not exactly breaking news. Back in April, James Suckling reported in his Wine Spectator blog — with much more restrained and judicious tone — that Giacosa was making a “hard but right” decision:

    It’s a courageous thing to do, and I can’t think of many wine producers who would do the same. I was at the 80th birthday of Bruno Giacosa, the legendary winemaker of Piedmont, about a week ago and he told me that he wasn’t going to bottle his 2006 Barolos or Barbarescos.

    “I just don’t like the quality of the wines,” he said, as we ate lunch and drank some of his fabulous Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto including the 100-point 2000. “I just don’t like the way they are. They are not good enough for me. So I am not going to bottle them.”

Secondly, what really happened was that the British importer of Giacosa announced that it was going to be releasing Giacosa’s 2007 bottlings in February of next year (since the 2006 will not be available). Here’s the release, which was sent to me today by the importer Armit:

    2006 was a difficult year for Bruno Giacosa. He suffered a serious stroke which resulted in him being absent from both the vineyards and cellar for most of the year and into the beginning of 2007.

    Although 2006 was overall a fine vintage in Piedmont, now that Bruno is in a position to judge the quality of the wines personally, he is not satisfied that the Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s [sic] produced at Giacosa meet his exacting standards.

    He has taken the brave and we think highly honourable decision not to bottle these wines, which is clearly a considerable financial sacrifice.

    Bruno’s decision underlines the remarkable recovery he has made. He is now back fully involved, alongside new winemaker Giorgio Lavagna, and after a clearly difficult period, the focus on quality remains as strong as ever at Giacosa.

    As a result of the decision with the 2006s, we now plan to release the 2007 Barbaresco wines in February/March 2010.

I hope this helps to clarify Decanter’s sloppy journalism.

– 2006 was actually a “good” although not “excellent” year in Langa; not everyone made exceptional wine, but the wines will be generally good (Franco and James both agree on this: read this exchange between the two of them on this very issue);

– Giacosa is not going to sell his wine off in demijohns as vino sfuso; that’s just preposterous; he regularly bottles using the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC and I imagine he’ll sell some of the wine to other notable producers who will bottle it.

Above: Back in September 2007, Alice, Lawrence, and I shared a wine bottled by Giacosa in a vintage not considered one of the best.

It’s no secret that since Bruno suffered his stroke, his daughter Bruna has been looking for a buyer for the estate. It’s also no secret that last year, Bruna forced Bruno’s long-time protégé Dante Scaglione out of his position. Could it be that internal issues played a role here?

It was irrepsonsible for Ramsdale to make it sound as if Giacosa was patently dismissing the 2006 Langa vintage. When viewed in context, the not-so-breaking news reveals other forces at play.