A couple of wine dinners I’ve got coming up…

From the department of “it’s a tough job but someone’s got to keep the world safe for Italian wine”…

gaja brunello houston

That’s the flight of wine (above) I’ll be talking about when I speak at Tony’s in Houston on Wednesday, November 28. Tony and I have so much fun working together and I’m thrilled that he asks me to do these dinners. 1990 Recioto by Quinatrelli? The answer is yes.

And this Sunday, November 11, I’ll be presenting Frank Cornelissen at Sotto in Los Angeles. The most valuable nose in this business, Lou Amdur, will also be on hand to speak.

Alice Feiring was going to join us on Sunday but “nature conspired” against her trip, as she put it: Sandy made it impossible for her to get here from NYC.

I’ll also be pouring Sicilian and Sardinian wine on Wednesday, November 14, with Piero Selvaggio and Darrell Corti at Piero’s Valentino in Los Angeles. Chef Steve Samson will also be cooking for the event. I can’t wait to see Darrell!

@EricAsimov teaches our generation “how to love wine”

best wine book 2012

“Instead of a joy,” writes Eric the Red (Eric Asimov) in his newly released “memoir and manifesto,” How to Love Wine, “for many people wine has become a burden.”

“The United States,” he observes, “has become the largest single consumer of wine on the planet, yet what’s missing in many people’s experience of wine is a simple sense of ease. Instead, choosing a wine becomes an exercise in anxiety. Many people have come to believe that they cannot enjoy wine unless they are already knowledgeable, and so deny themselves the pleasurable experiences that would allow them to gain confidence.”

(His column last week for The New York Times, also addresses this phenomenon and the misunderstood role of the sommelier.)

As I read Eric’s new book over the weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about how our generation (he’s my eldest brother’s age) is the first American generation to approach wine in demotic terms.

Like him, I grew up in a Jewish household where wine was considered a luxury (if it was considered at all). He notes his (our) parents were among the first American generation who could afford to travel to Europe. They went made a first trip in 1971: “Perhaps most interesting of all to them, they ate in French restaurants and drank wine.” (Around the same time, my parents went to Russia and drank vodka.)

He talks about drinking “bland and boring” beer and smoking weed in high school and college, not “turn[ing] up my nose at the sort of things that typically found their way to dormitory parties back then.”

And then, in 1982, while a grad student in Austin, Texas, an epiphany is delivered by an $8 bottle of Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba (my epiphany bottle was a literally homegrown Sangiovese in Montalcino in 1989).

The parallels in our lives are uncanny as they are common among our generation. (For our mutual friend Alice Feiring, another one of my favorite wine writers, it was a bottle of Nebbiolo in 1980; the fact that we’re all Slavic Jews and the role that Italian wine has played are also unheimlich.)

As Georgia P played with her toys on the floor and I devoured Eric’s book, I realized that she will grow up in an America that is aware (and self-aware) of its application of wine. And I also thought deeply about how our generation’s “anxiety” in approaching wine is probably what has fueled the enoblogosphere’s explosion, the vitriol that often sullies the discusion of wine, and the joy that so many of us find in the wine blogging community.

I plan to write a proper review of the book for the Houston Press.

In the meantime, I highly recommend it to you.

O, and why is Eric called “Eric the Red” here on my blog, you ask?

He took the name himself inspired by my brush with Dany Le Rouge.

Oxidative Clairette and octopus at Marea

From the department of “life could be worse”…

What a thrill to dine last night at Marea with Alice Feiring and Paolo Cantele, two of my favorite people in the world.

The food was spectacular and I was surprised to see that they’ve expanded their list greatly to include an impressive French selection (the first time I visited the focus and concentration was purely Italian).

Alice’ choice was 2007 Château Simone white, my first taste of this extraordinary expression of Clairette. It took a while to open up and I reserved a glass to drink at the end of the meal, when its fruit really began to show brilliantly.

The pasta at Marea has been consistently superb in my experience there. The long noodles with shellfish and calamari was great.

My selection was the 2001 Pepe, still very tannic and dark but utterly delicious, with that rich mouthfeel unique to Pepe’s wines.  I’ve tasted a lot of Pepe lately because we currently offer a vertical at Sotto in LA (where I curate the wine list) and these wines always inspire me.

Tonight we’re heading to Joe Campanale’s new restaurant L’Apicio and then to visit one of my best friends in the NYC wine and food scene… Stay tuned… 

Alice Feiring joins us @SottoLA with Frank Cornelissen and Lou Amdur

From the department of “ubi maior minor cessat”…

Above: When ever Alice (foreground), Tracie P, and me get together, we always manage to cause trouble (just ask Alice; she’ll tell you!).

A few months ago, I was approached by one of the top wine distributors in California, Amy Atwood, who asked me if Sotto in Los Angeles (where I curate the wine list) would like to host a wine dinner with radical natural winemaker Frank Cornelissen, who raises wines on Mt. Etna (Sicily).

I was thrilled, of course, and I immediately reached out to Natural wine authority Lou Amdur, a Los Angeles icon in the field: to not have Lou at the event would have been nothing less than egregiously negligent.

And of course, my dream was to have Alice Feiring there as well: between her excellent blog and her two monographs on the subject, Alice is the Natural wine movement’s leading authority and its most sage voice. (And she’s also a dear, dear friend who has not only mentored me at different moments of my career but also helped me regain my footing in some of the darkest moments of my life.)

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that dreams do come true.

We’ve hit the Natural wine trifecta: this week Alice agreed to attend our Cornelissen dinner at Sotto on November 11.

Click here for details. I hope to see you there: it should be a night to remember…

Why Antonio Galloni matters now more than ever

Antonio Galloni (left; image via Corriere.it) has been on my mind the last few days.

In part because I turn to his writing repeatedly for his observations on vintage characteristics and site typicity. In part because his extreme and truly supreme knowledge of Italian wine inspire me. In part because the genuine and unmitigated exhilaration of his Twitter feed reminds me every day why I love what he does and what I do for a living. And in part because the Citizen Kane of wine blogging took a very cheap — and despicably hypocritical — shot at Antonio this week.

Unmentionable wine blogger — who will remain nameless here lest we drive more traffic to his petty hissing — accused Antonio of conflict of interest in an upcoming tasting he’s leading. My feeling is that even if there were a conflict of interest (and there is not), who cares and who could possibly be hurt by a vertical tasting of Solaia (even though I personally don’t care for the brand)?

In a recent where-are-the-snows-of-yesteryear post on his blog, self-described “old fart” wine writer (and all-around jolly fellow whom I enjoy and respect immensely) Tom Maresca bemoans the current generation of wine writers, winemakers, and wine sellers (cfr. the ballade des dames des temps jadis).

“There are no more Luigi Veronellis or Giorgio Grais,” he writes (ignoring the fact that there is still a very healthy Giorgio Grai), “no Edoardo Valentinos, and all too soon there will be no more Franco Biondi-Santis. Pioneers like Renato Ratti and Giacomo Bologna are long gone, as are retailers as passionate and devoted as the still-lamented Lou Iacucci – that is now a rare breed indeed.”

I can’t fault Tom for his Jeremiad: as north Americans have discovered fine wine over the last three decades, the wine business has become big business and the larger-than-life, “greatest generation,” selfless figures that he refers to are being replaced by the Zonins, Antinoris, and Lucio Mastroberardinos of this new and brave world.

And that’s why Antonio Galloni matters more than ever.

A Berklee-educated jazz musician, a Milan-trained tenor, a successful finance executive, and — in my view — the leading expert on Italian wine today, Antonio is a true renaissance man for a new chapter in the history of wine connoisseurship. (Few remember, btw, that Voltaire made his fortune in finance before turning to philosophy.)

The culture of wine writing has shifted dramatically in the last ten years and I believe that Antonio’s model of superbly informed writing balanced by his business acumen (expressed through the many high-end consumer tastings that he leads throughout the country every year) represents the new generation of Anglophone vinography.

When House and Garden closed wine writer Jay McInerney’s legendary $75K expense account in 2007, the move represented the end of an era. At the time, there were scores of wine writers making a living purely by writing and not “monetizing” their intellectual property. Today, you can count their number on one hand.

Even our good friend Alice Feiring has begun to monetize her career following the example of Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, Jr. (and I highly recommend her soon-to-be-published Natural wine newsletter and Kickstarter campaign to you; I’m a subscriber).

Just like the world needs Alice, so the world needs Antonio. And I thank goodness for both of them. Let’s not blame them for monetizing their intellectual property. Let’s praise them for following a brave new path in a brave new world…

Frank Cornelissen @SottoLA November 11 with @LouAmdur

“Mt. Etna speaks through Frank Cornelissen.”
Alice Feiring, author of Naked Wine and The Battle for Wine and Love: How I Saved the World from Parkerization

“Naturalness is the road, not its end.”
—Frank Cornelissen

It’s official: I’ll be hosting a dinner for Etna winemaker Frank Cornelissen at Sotto in Los Angeles on Sunday November 11.

Click here for details.

Lou will be there, too!

Picking a wine for Alice…

Bringing a wine to the home of Alice Feiring is like bringing owls to Athens or coal to Newcastle.

But when I spied a bottle of 2005 Fatalone Primitivo Riserva yesterday afternoon at Astor Wines, I just couldn’t resist… and I lived to tell my tale!

Ever since I tasted the wines of Pasquale Petrera, I grab them wherever I can (they’re not available in Texas, sadly, but we offer three of his labels on our list at Sotto, where they are among the staff’s favorites).

Hanging in Alice’s kitchen is one of the things I miss most about living in NYC…

And, of course, who can pass up a chance to use New York City’s most famous toilet?

Stay tuned for more New York stories…

03 Barbera d’Asti Vigna del Noce was insanely good (and the best Malbec I’ve ever had)

The Trinchero winery first came to my attention many years ago while living and working in New York and I have followed the wines ever since, tasting them whenever I get the chance.

Of all the Barbera that floods the U.S. market these days, Trinchero — a Barbera d’Asti producer and Natural winemaker — is one of the least likely to reach a city like Houston, Texas, where the “100-point burning embers” (thank you, Robert Parker!) of Colgin Cellars are considered a benchmark for the finer things in life.

But for reasons not wholly unknown to me, a small Houston-based importer called Dionysus brings in a number of Piedmont wines that I love.

When my friend and colleague Scott Sulma included the 2003 Vigna del Noce in a tasting menu flight the other night at Tony’s, I was skeptical. The last time I tasted this wine, a few years ago, it seemed to be succumbing to the overly ripe vintage. And while it still had healthy acidity, a jammy note had begun to emerge.

But when we tasted it a week ago Tuesday and then again last Tuesday, it showed brilliant acidity, meaty but balanced fruit, and the focused tannin that Asti-grown Barbera often develops when vinified in the traditional Astigiano and Monferrato style.

Revisting the wine made me think that the previous bottle I had purchased at a wine store in Houston had been slightly cooked.

I thought the wine was fantastic…

I was surprised to find a bottle of entry-tier Joly labeled Vieux Clos (the way it is labeled in France) as opposed to the Americanized Clos Sacres (when we visited Coulée de Serrant, Virginie Joly told us that a previous U.S. importer had advised her father that Americans would never buy anything labeled vieux).

The 2009 had more body in the mouth than recent vintages I’ve tasted but it was fresh and clean on the nose. Another huge winner for me (although at $25 a glass at Tony’s it’s not exactly recession friendly).

But the biggest surprise of dinner on Tuesday was an AMAZING Cahors by (Natural?) winemaker Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve. (The winery doesn’t have a website but I did find this page.)

Most of the Cahors that makes the Atlantic crossing is so tricked out and oaked that it tastes like sawdust (at least in my experience).

This wine had acidity and fruit and an ethereal earthiness that really thrilled me… I have no idea how this wine made it to Houston (another crazy importer?) but I’m looking forward to putting a few bottles down in our cellar.

It paired brilliantly with the rib-eye with balsamic reduction at Tony’s.

In other news…

I was dismayed to read 1 Wine Dude’s post on Robert Parker’s nastiness and wholly unwarranted rant against our dear friend Alice Feiring in a recent Sommelier Journal interview.

IMHO, 1 Wine Dude (aka Joe) is the top wine blogger in the enoblogosphere right now: he knows how to balance the tannin of truth with the fruit of joy, adding just enough acidity to keep it all bouncing. I liked the way that he approached this sticky subject and how he moderated the comments that followed.

Here’s the post.

Chapeau bas, Joe.

Alice and I pay a visit to the “Wine Seer” (New York Stories III)

@Levi_opens_wine an amazing wine seer, don’t you think, @DoBianchi?” tweeted Alice at the end of the night after we visited with Levi and Brooklyn Guy uptown last Friday night.

In my view, Levi is arguably the coolest sommelier in the U.S. right now and beyond his razor-sharp expertise in Italian wine, he always seems to be just one step ahead of the curve, shaping the discourse and defining the dialectic — a wine “seer,” as Alice put.

It’s not that I didn’t want to see all of my other friends last week in the City. I only had about 48 hours on the ground and they were consumed mostly by meetings with my top client. And Alice, Brooklyn Guy, and Levi were the people I needed to see on this trip.

It was also great to catch up with celebrity sommelier Michael Madrigale, who was working the floor at Boulud Sud that night with Levi.

But it was Levi who had the goods and the dope that I wanted to smoke.

The first wine he opened was the 2005 Overnoy Arbois Pupillin (made from Savagnin), a wine that Levi knows is hard to find beyond the island of Manhattan. An oxidative, tannic, orange wine from the Jura… In many ways this wine represented a synagoga (a coming together) of fascinations that have exited some of us over the last decade. The wine was salty and dense, with its muscle dominating its grace; its delicacy and nuance emerging and revealing itself only as we patiently observed its evolution.

Brooklyn Guy offered that this was an ideal expression of this wine, noting that he had seen a lot of bottle variation in his purchases.

But the pièce de résistance was the Equipos Navaros Bota de Manzanilla Pasada (Sherry).

Brooklyn Guy (aka “the Brook,” as Eric the Red calls him) and Levi have both visited Jerez in the last few years and it was thrilling to hear them hold court on this wine, produced by a generic, commercial winery that holds back certain privileged casks.

“Sherry is a forgotten wine,” said Brooklyn Guy, as Levi expressed his view that the category delivers wines that should be served with food instead of as an aperitif, as do the English and Anglophilic Americans.

I highly recommend checking both of their blogs — Brooklyn Guy and So You Want to be a Sommelier, respectively — and their threads on Sherry and their discoveries.

Is Sherry going to be the next big thing in the U.S.?

@Levi_opens_wine an amazing wine seer, don’t you think, @DoBianchi?