Naughty with Alice Feiring in Austin

A schlub from Southern California had the very distinct pleasure and honor of escorting two very fine ladies out on the town in Austin, Texas last night.

After a quick stop at Vino Vino (where Alice will be speaking tomorrow night at a dinner in her honor, featuring unsulfured Spanish wines imported by José Pastor), we just had to head over to another one of me and Tracie P’s favorite restaurants, Fonda San Miguel, for some 1998 Tondonia Rosada by López de Heredia (hell yeah!). After all, didn’t Alice write the book on this winery and the wines that have meant so much to so many of us no matter where we eat, love, and pray?

Guacamole, queso fundido, corn tortilla chips fried in vegetable shortening, and huitlacoche tamales made for superb pairings…

Next came an intermezzo at an excellent Kentucky Bourbon and Virginia Ham party hosted by Boots in the Oven in the home of Erin and Nat (Alice didn’t eat any ham, for the record, in case you were wondering).

And what first visit to the Groover’s Paradise would be complete without some two-stepping at the Broken Spoke and honkytonking at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon?

Didn’t I read once in the New York Times that Austin is the type of town where “everyone gets home safe”?

Happily somehow, the schlub managed to ferry his precious wards back to tranquility and a roof over their heads.

We’re heading out early this morning for some Texas Hill Country wine tastings…

Two awesome (new world) wines we tasted at Alice’s

Tracie P and I had a short but delightful visit chez Alice on Sunday afternoon and what visit with Alice would be complete without a proper wine tasting?

I was entirely geeked to taste the 2002 Vat 1 Semillon by Tyrell’s and I was blown away by how good the La Clarine Farm’s 2008 was — especially considering how long the wine had been open…

But, more than anything else, I was entirely blown away by the fact that we tasted two new world wines at her house! And they were both delicious… (Note her tasting notes on the label of the La Clarine Farms… Okay, so I admit, I was STAR STRUCK!)

Thanks again, Alice!

Barbaresco Pora 2001 Produttori del Barbaresco left me speechless

pora

Above: Every once in a while you open the right bottle at the right time with the right people on the right occasion. The 2001 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco left me and Tracie P speechless last night.

Yesterday, on our way back from Orange, Texas (on the Louisiana border), where we visited with Tracie P’s family and celebrated most-likely-soon-to-be-family-member Clark Dean’s graduation from Sam Houston State University with home-smoked ribs and brisket (Clark’s dating cousin Katherine), we stopped in Houston for an impromptu wine tasting and spaghettata with the Levy clan and family friend Taylor Holladay.

Cousins Marty and Joanne and Neil and Dana (of the Levy clan) are so generous to me and Tracie P and have so warmly welcomed us into their lives: we wanted to do something special for them by means of a wine tasting and — by request — Tracie P’s spaghetti alla carbonara.

Five wonderful wines were opened and you can imagine which wines they were, since they often appear here at Do Bianchi (the theme was our favorite wines to drink at home). But the wine that eclipsed them all — the bottiglia signora — was the 2001 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco.

pora

Above: After the tasting, the Pora was the wine that everyone wanted to drink for dinner. I just can’t begin to explain how much I love Produttori del Barbaresco — excellent price/quality ratio, honest and real wine, poop and fruit in a glass.

“Poop and fruit in a glass,” were Tracie P’s words: this nearly 10-year-old expression of old-school Nebbiolo, from one of the best vintages of our lifetime (delivered in a bottle I picked up at a close-out last year for $35!), left me (nearly) speechless (if you can imagine that!). A nearly perfect equilibrium of tannin, earth, fruit, and acidity, the right bottle, the right wine, opened with the right folks, at the very right moment.

Pora is arguably the “softest” of the Produttori del Barbaresco single-vineyard bottlings but this bottle surprised me with its impressive tannic structure, integrated nicely with the wine’s gorgeous fruit. I promise that one day soon, I’ll post my notes from tasting all of the winery’s crus with winemaker Aldo Vacca back in March.

In other news…

On Saturday, Taylor had been bamboozled by the behemoth of Texas wine retailers (and it’s not hard to guess who that is). He had visited the flagship store in Houston asking for a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco (my recommendation) intended for his late-night date Sunday night. He was sold an under $30 blend of barriqued Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese from Bolgheri (in a very “naughty” bottle, i.e., deep punt, thick glass, etc.) by a salesperson who told him, “this is very similar to Produttori del Barbaresco. If you like that, you’ll like this.” Wrong grape, wrong region, and wrong style… Tracie P and I just couldn’t send Taylor on his mission with a bottle of tricked-out Cabernet! Luckily, I had a bottle of 2004 Rosso del Veronese (a classic blend of Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella, vinified in stainless-steel and aged in large cask) by one of Quintarelli’s protégés Luca Fedrigo, owner of L’Arco.

How did the wine work out? “Great… It got me a kiss!!”

Available at the Austin Wine Merchant, under $20 (the wine, not the kiss).

In other other news…

If you haven’t yet read Alice’s “Modern Love” column in the Times… run don’t walk!

Alice in the news, but not for wine (you’re not going to believe this)

Above: Alice, Tracie P, and I had dinner together last year in Paris and did some natural winebar hopping together.

One of the things I admire the most about our good friend Alice Feiring is that she’s a great writer — a great American writer, a great New York writer — and she writes about wine the way Philip Roth would write about wine if he wrote about wine. Her subject is non-fiction but she approaches it the way a novelist approaches narrative: like a fiction writer, she tells a story about wine — often personal, often drawing from her own life experience — to reveal truths about her subject otherwise lost upon the naked eye.

Alice was in the news this morning, but not for wine. She was one of the scores of women “persuaded to pose” for the “Dating Game Killer,” Rodney Alcala in the late 1960s. Here’s a link to the story that appeared today in the Daily News.

I’m just so glad that she’s okay… I just can’t imagine a world without her.

Together again, naturally

breg

Above: Nothing to Breg about, to borrow Alfonso’s pun. Last night, he, Tracie P, and I shared a bowl of her slow-cooker cannellini beans and escarole in our home in Austin. Decanted and with a few hours of aeration, the 2000 Breg by Gravner bowled me over, in every sense of the word. Thanks, Alfonso!

Natural wine has been on my mind (again) lately. In part because of a recent appeal posted on the Slowine website (and brought to my attention by Italy’s top wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani) calling for Italy’s “natural wine” fairs (namely, Vini Veri and VinNatur) to be incorporated into the annual Italian wine industry mega-fair Vinitaly. I stayed home this year and didn’t attend but when I posted event details for Vini Veri, a number of folks — including some high-profile industry types — weighed in on the side of consolidation.

slowcooker

Above: There’s just no other way to put this. Tracie P’s legumes were divine last night. Every bean was perfectly whole but then melted in the mouth. Did I mention that the beautiful lady behind the lens also has a natural gift for photography? She snapped the above.

Natural wine has also been on my mind because I’ve been following Alice’s truly excellent posts on the nature — semantic, metaphysical, and sensorial — of natural wine, the winemakers and movement(s) that support and profess it, and the new space it occupies in the language and the perceptions of the mainstream. The latest post, entitled “What is Natural Wine?”, may be the best, but I highly recommend the previous two posts (here and here) and the Washington Post article that prompted the series, “Natural Isn’t Perfect” by Dave McIntyre.

bacon

Above: Not only did Alfonso bring the Gravner last night, he also brought some awesome bacon from Robertson’s in Salado, Texas. @BrooklynGuy, you would love this stuff.

In other natural wine news, the excellent Italian wine blog Intravino posted a profile of natural wine trailblazer Joe Dressner and the blog devoted to his truly heroic battle with brain cancer (also brought to my attention by Mr. Ziliani and btw here’s a link to Joe’s blog).

In an email I received yesterday from Étienne de Montille, the famous winemaker wrote that “I should have left for Tokyo Sunday but… Nature has decided otherwise.”

Volcano or no volcano, the transatlantic dialogue moves forward as “natural wine,” however it is conceived or perceived, indelibly enters into the collective vinous consciousness. Only good can come of it.

Impossible wine pairing? Chex Mix (stinky Jura wine and Cory’s thoughts on tasting notes)

Above: What to pair with Chex Mix? Stinky, oxidized Domaine de Montbourgeau 2006 Chardonnay (with a little Savagnin). What else? Now, how’s that for fusion? Photos by Tracie B.

Do you think that Dr. V minds that I borrow his “impossible wine pairing” schtick? I’m sure he doesn’t (do you, Dr. V?)…

Tracie B and I love this wine (which we paired last night with Mrs. B’s Chex Mix). It’s got that irresistible oxidized stinkiness that we love. Not everyone will like this wine (man, does it stink!) but at roughly $28 in our market it’s one of our favorite “Saturday night” wines. If I’m not mistaken, the first time I tasted this wine (probably the 05) was at a dinner in Los Angeles where wine guru Paul Wasserman was charged with picking a wine that Alice would like unqualifiedly. He chose it because it was “the most oxidized wine on the list” (we were at Palate)!

Above: It also paired extraordinarily well with Mrs. B’s pulled pork, topped with mayonnaise and sliced red onions.

Our far-out pairing of stinky oxidized wine from the Jura in France (an über-wine-geek wine) with some southern comfort seems all the more a propos today in the light of Cory’s excellent post from the other day On Tasting Notes. I’ve long maintained, borrowing a phrase from the great Italian twentieth-century writer Carlo Emilio Gadda, that tasting notes are the “lice” of wine writing. Just read the comment thread to the post: those who defend the obscene practice of fanciful, capricious tasting notes only prove Cory’s well-made point!

The best wine writing (in my book) is about context, people, and pairing: whom with, where, when, and why you opened a given wine and how it made you feel — not the supercilious virtuosismo of strong-armed tasting notes where certain wine writers and bloggers (and we all know whom we’re talking about) seem to thumb-wrestle the notes out of the wines they taste.

In other news…

Above: Tracie B took this photo with her new Blackberry!

Tracie B and I are in Orange, Texas for the first of her wedding showers. I’ve been itching to see more of Lousiana (yes, it’s Lou-siana ’round these parts) and so Tracie B had promised to accompany me across the border (which is also the city limit) to one of the gambling joints. I’d never gambled before in my life and it was fun to have a drink and blow ten bucks on video poker (although, man, it was smoky in there!).

Above: It’s illegal to transport beautiful Texan women (before marriage) across the Lousiana border but Rev. B gave me permission in this one case.

In the glow of our upcoming wedding, Tracie B is more beautiful than ever! To borrow the phrase that Franco has already taken to calling her, she is a simply gorgeous sposina. :-)

We’ve also been having fun planning our honeymoon. Guess where we’re going? You guessed it! MUMBAI! ;-)

Our date with the City, part 2: the best natural wine bar in the U.S.?

beaujolais

Above: I may be going out on a limb here when I say that Ten Bells seems to have captured the title of the “best natural wine bar in NYC” but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway. The selection of stinky cru Beaujolais was pretty impressive, even after affable owner Fifi Essome had sold out of many of the labels for his Beaujolais festival the Thursday before our Sunday visit. Photos by Tracie B.

Whether it’s Saignée, Wine Digger, Eric, Alice, or McDuff, it seems like all of my fav bloggers are either writing about or hanging out at The Ten Bells on the Lower East Side of New York City (which takes its name from the homonymous and notorious London pub).

So after Tracie B and I finished lunch with Michele at Kesté, we took a stroll over to the east side and picked up Alice in SoHo and walked down the Bowery to Broome and Orchard on the Lower East Side and tasted a few of the by-the-glass Beaujolais selections that were leftover from the wine bar’s Beaujolais festival the previous Thursday — and what an impressive, if picked-over, list it was!

alice feiring

Above: Alice Feiring is one of my dearest friends and one of the persons I have known the longest in New York. Her book The Battle for Wine and Love was recently released in paperback.

Beyond Lou on Vine in Los Angeles, which remains my favorite American winebar, I can’t think of anywhere else you will find a greater selection of natural, stinky wines. And while Lou can trump nearly any joint for the hipster celebrity sitings on any given night, The Ten Bells seems to have become the official backdrop for the natural wine dialectic of our fine nation and seems to be the official satellite office for visiting natural winemakers.

I liked the way McDuff put it best: “The Ten Bells is mysterious… The Ten Bells is dark… The Ten Bells is Dangerous…” Just quickly scanning Fifi’s hand-written chalkboard wine list as Tracie B, Alice, and I caught up after our last meeting in Paris at Racine’s, I eyed at least a score of labels that I wanted to try. The oysters looked fantastic, too.

We had lots to catch up on but the main topic of conversation during our all-too-short visit was Alice’s recent and heated exchange with The Wine Spectator’s James Suckling, who was finally hipped to natural wine by our mutual friend (and jazz guitar great) Anthony Wilson. I’ll be connecting with Anthony early next month and I’ll be sure to get the juice behind the juice he turned Suckling on to!

Our date with the City was too short and there were so many folks and places that we would have loved to have seen. I can’t say that I miss living in New York but you gotta love the buzz of that city, the energy, and the wine. With London, Paris, and Rome, New York is right up there as one of the great wine destinations of the world — whether you’re drinking old Nebbiolo at Manducatis in Queens or stinky, natural Beaujolais on the Lower East Side at The Ten Bells. I sure don’t need it everyday… but a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day in November, with some yummy Beaujolais in our tummies, catching up with some dear friends, felt just right…

The “intense delicacy” of the last of the Mohicans in Texas

heredia

Tasting through the current releases of López de Heredia the other day in Austin made me feel like Big Joe Turner’s Mississippi bullfrog in “Flip, Flop, and Fly”: I’m like a Mississippi bullfrog sittin’ on a hollow stump/I got so many good bottles of wine, I don’t know which way to jump.

I was thrilled to see that the wines have returned to Texas, in the hands of a smaller distributor who seems to be treating the bottlings with the respect and care they deserve.

My friend Alice Feiring put it best when she wrote about the “intense delicacy” of these wines, using a Petrarchesque oxymoron. They are at once intensely aromatic and flavorful but show that unbearable lightness that I find so alluring in great wine.

Some of the most inspired prose in Alice’s The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization is devoted to the López de Heredia winery. But it was owner Maria José López de Heredia who called the winery the “last of the Mohicans”:

    When López de Heredia buckles — if ever — that style of wine is gone and cannot be replaced. I asked Maria José, “Are you sad about the way things are going right now?” Her answer shocked me. “Wine has been worse in Rioja. It’s not so bad now. There are good wines being made, but we are ‘the last of the Mohicans,'” she said, with tremendous pride. She actually liked being the last one.

I love the wines of López de Heredia and try to taste and enjoy them at any chance I get.

The 1989 Tondonia white was showing beautifully, even if it inspired a lively debate among the wine professionals gathered that day as to whether it was “off” or not. (“The release of a López de Herdia white,” writes Alice, “is always a love-it-or-hate-it affair. No matter what a drinker’s preferences, the wine always gets attention.”) I’ve tasted that wine maybe 10 times over the last year and I think that the bottle we tasted was right on.

I was also really impressed with the entry-level 2003 Cubillo (red), which showed uncommon grace for this wine. The 1991 Tondonia and Bosconia (reds) were simply stunning.

The wines won’t be an easy sell here in Texas (nor are they anywhere, for that matter). Their oxidative nature can be a turn-off for a lot of folks. But I’m so glad that they’ve returned to Texas. Tracie B and I will be drinking them for sure!

In other news…

Austin wine writer Wes Marshall reviewed Kermit’s CD today and previewed his listening party Monday November 9 here in town at Vino Vino (yours truly will be presenting Kermit and his producer Ricky Fataar). I haven’t been playing music professionally since Nous Non Plus’s last show in LA in May: I’ve been having a blast promoting this show and I love that feeling of filling a room. I hear there are just a few seats left! ;-)

Best definition of “orange wine” out there?

There really is no exact nor canonical definition of “orange wine” out there. But the best attempt to define the often murky and cloudy stuff was scribed by the inimitable Thor Iverson here.

Eric was at the same dinner described by Thor, as was Alice.

One thing you can say for certain about orange wine is that even though there is no succinct, clear cut definition of what it is, you definitely know when you’re drinking it!