Nero d’Avola icon, best NYC pizza in ATX, & shoutout from @ItalianWineGuy 4 @SottoLA

best nero d'avola

Time is ever so precious these days as we juggle life at home with a newborn and a toddler.

Wine isn’t much of a focus at home right now and when it is, it’s poured from a bottle that’s been sitting in our literally overflowing sample bin.

On Saturday night, we opened this superb bottle of Feudo Montoni 2008 Nero d’Avola Vrucara (vineyard designation) that my friend and LA-based importer Ramin had sent me (this wine has been a great lot for us at Sotto in Los Angeles where I curate the wine program with my colleague Rory).

The wine was rich and unctuous in its mouthfeel and its acidity danced atop its woodsy, earthy flavors and ripe red fruit aromas.

Montoni’s wines are among the greatest expressions of Nero d’Avola, a grape variety much misunderstood in this country in my view.

With so much inexpensive, easy-drinking Nero d’Avola coming from Vittoria and from the northern coast of the island (a wonderful trend that I applaud), we forget that historically, inland-raised mountain Nero d’Avola, like this iconic wine from Cammarata, represents the variety’s aristocratic heritage.

We loved it and drank it over the course of two nights. At the second tasting, the fruit had really begun to emerge, more forcefully but without dominating the savory flavors of the wine, and the acidity was still popping.

Btw, you can read about Vrucara’s pedigree and Montoni’s vinification process in a Google books preview of Bill Nesto MW and Frances Di Savino’s excellent monograph The World of Sicilian Wine (UC Press 2013).

And I wrote about the ubiquitous however erroneous Bacci attribution here.

What did we pair it with?

best new york pizza austin

To my knowledge, there’s only one restaurant in greater Austin that makes real New York-style pizza.

It’s called Reale’s Café and it’s about thirty minutes north of where we live.

On Saturday, I took Georgia P up that way to visit a splash pad and so I stopped on our way back to pick up a pie.

The pairing was as decadent as it was delicious. And while Georgia P is a little young for NYC-style pizza (she had wholewheat pasta elbows tossed with chopped spinach, butter, and Parmigiano Reggiano), mommy and daddy treated themselves to an affordable indulgence on Saturday night with a great bottle of wine.

In other news…


Our wine list at Sotto got a shout-out yesterday from the Italian Wine Guy aka On the Wine Trail in Italy aka Alfonso Cevola in a post entitled “Italian Restaurants in America with Great Italian Wine Lists.”

We didn’t make his “top three” list but what a thrill be mentioned together with wine professionals who have inspired and informed me and my career! Friends Shelley Lindgren, Bobby Stuckey, and Roberto Paris, are each pioneers in their own right and taste-makers in our world of Italian wine.

Tracie P and I don’t see or hear much from Alfonso these days. Between winning international awards, traveling the “wine trail,” and his myriad speaking engagements, he doesn’t seem to make it to Austin as much as he used to.

That makes us sad but we know it can’t be easy to balance all the great stuff he’s got going on. We’re really happy for him and his much deserved success.

And I was thrilled that Sotto made his “short list” of Italian wine list in the U.S.

Thanks, Alfonso! And many wishes for your continued success!

Quintarelli Valpolicella & Lucy’s fried chicken (Giovanni’s Easy Rider tour comes to an end)

There was one sine qua non pillar of Americana that Giovanni had not yet experienced on his “Easy Rider USA Tour 2012”: fried chicken, the way its done in the South.

And so on his last day in Texas, we decided to take a ride to the south side of Austin to Lucy’s Fried Chicken, where irony and hipsterdom collide in a deep frier (photo above by Giovanni). We picked up a bucket of chicken, which, according to Lucy’s serves four but could easily accommodate a party of six (unless folks squabble over who gets the breast).

When we visited Houston on Tuesday, Giovanni had spied a bottle of Quintarelli 2000 Valpolicella, which he generously bought for us to share. As deep as our friendship may run, Giovanni — a top Italian winemaker — and I often disagree about wine. The “rough edges” of many of the Natural and old-school wines that Tracie P and I cherish preclude his nod of approval. He even turned his nose up at a bottle of 2006 Romangia Bianco by Dettori that we opened — one of our all-time favorite wines, showing gorgeously right now! Blasphemy at the Parzen residence!

But one thing we can all agree on is Quintarelli. And the superb bottle inspired an interesting conversation on the use of oxidation and filtration, with Giovanni pointing to Quintarelli as a master in both regards (where many Natural winemakers use excessive oxidation and don’t filter at all).

The richness of the wine (served slightly chilled) was simply brilliant with the fatty, juicy (and delicious) fried chicken and its dark red fruit ideal with the flavors of Tracie P’s mouth-watering fried okra (above) and mashed potatoes.

This morning I took Giovanni to the airport and he’ll be back in Brescia by lunchtime tomorrow. It was great to have him here and share our lives with him. (Italian-speaking readers, please check out his posts on Texas truck culture and his impressions of a Texan wine.)

Thanks again, Giovanni, for the visit and the Quintarelli! Travel safe, friend. As we say in the South, come back and see us, ya hear?

Eat my puccia (in Austin, Texas) cc @PaoloCantele

Above: The art of the puccia lies in the creativity and freedom of ingredients that you use to dress it. At the puccia truck in Austin, they make a pastrami puccia! I love it!

The word puccia first became part of my gastronomic lexicon when my good friend (and client) Paolo Cantele took me to one of his favorite puccia shops in Lecce (Puglia, Italy).

The puccia is a savory flatbread indigenous to Puglia: it is griddle-fired and then stuffed with a wide variety of toppings — often clashing flavors. When I questioned Paolo’s wisdom off requesting a puccia stuffed with prosciutto and tuna, he didn’t miss a beat in responding “that’s the whole point of the puccia!”

You can imagine my delight when I discovered that Austin — the capital of trailer dining and food trucks in the U.S. — has its own puccia pimp, an Apulian dude named “Lucky” Luciano who runs a puccia truck downtown across from the Whole Foods Market on Lamar on 5th St.

But the coolest thing about Lucky’s puccia is that he embraces American foods in the toppings he uses, like the pastrami puccia above. And of course, all things being equal, in Austin you can pair Lucky’s puccia with Texas beer.

Here’s the Yelp and here’s the Facebook.


Buon weekend, yall! :)

Vita servare: Pediatric CPR Training

Vita servare is the motto of the Austin-Travis County EMS department. Vita means life in Latin and servare means to make safe, save, keep unharmed, preserve, guard, keep, protect, deliver, rescue (isn’t Latin awesome?).

Yesterday I completed my Pediatric and Adult CPR training at their main office.

I was the only layperson in the class: all the other participants were professional health care providers who were obtaining or renewing their certification (nurses, paramedics, etc.).

After 3 hours of performing CPR on manikins, man, I was exhausted! G-d bless all the folks who do this for living. We’re lucky to have them…

My heart filled with emotion and my blood with adrenaline when I held the infant manikin in my arms for the first time. I hope I never have to perform CPR on Baby P but I’m glad that I’m ready.

We’re just a few weeks away from our due date at this point. The discomfort is not easy to deal with but we’re hanging in there. I’m doing my best to make Tracie P as comfortable as possible. And, every day, I love her all the more for carrying our little one… My Italian friends call her la piccola Parzen

And, btw, I passed! :)

I highly recommend the class. Here’s the info.

Buona domenica, yall…

Pairing wine with Fellini

You can imagine how excited I am about tomorrow night’s screening of Fellini’s 1957 Notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria) and wine pairing tomorrow night at the Alamo Drafthouse (Ritz) in Austin — perhaps the only city in the world where someone would be crazy enough to pair wine and film on the big screen! I’ll be speaking before the screening about the wines and why I selected them. (Here are the details for tomorrow night’s event.)

Here are my pairings and what inspired them. Hope to see you there! Buona visione!

Château Moncontour Sparkling Vouvray

The one wine the characters of Cabiria drink in frame is Champagne. In the late 1950s in Rome, Champagne denoted a wide variety of sparkling wines with a wide range of provenance (although true Champagne can only be made in the region of Champagne in France). This dry sparkling wine is made from Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire Valley and is made using the méthode champenoise, where the wine is fermented a second time in bottle.

Domaine des Terres Dorées FRV100

The overarching theme of Fellini’s films is characters who find joy and revel in the beauty of life (la dolce vita) even in the worst imaginable situations. Cabiria is a classic Fellinian creation and she inspired the selection of this sparkling Gamay from the low-rent district of Beaujolais because it is as joyful as she. The winemaker is a fan of Fellini and mentions him as inspiration on the label of this bottle. The wine is named FRV100, rebus (in French) for effervescent.

Regillo Frascati

Frascati is the classic white wine of the Roman castle district, where popes and princes still make their homes and vacation villas to this day. In a time when table wine was nearly always produced locally, bright fresh and food-friendly Frascati often graced the tables of Rome’s colorful trattorie, where the rich and famous dined side-by-side with the proletariat. While we remember our parents’ cheaply produced commercial Frascati, this wine is farmed biodynamically (chemical free) and represents a true expression of this wonderful however humble appellation.

Ca’ del Monte Valpolicella Classico

Long before Barolo or Barbaresco, Brunello or Chianti, or the now ubiquitous and falsely crowned Super Tuscans were adored by the privileged class, Valpolicella was considered one of the great red wines of Italy. In the 1950s, you were apt to be poured Valpolicella in one of the swank restaurants of the Via Veneto, the elite thoroughfare that appears in many Roman films from that era. Indeed, Fellini’s characters are served a Valpolicella in his most famous (however misunderstood) film, La Dolce Vita — set against a swinging Via Veneto cast of players. Look for the minerality and the savory flavors in this excellent expression of Valpolicella.

Intro to the wines of Friuli: taste with me Thurs. in Austin

Above: I photographed this wasp sucking on some freshly picked Ribolla at my friend Giampaolo Venica’s winery in Collio (Friuli) last September.

Last fall, Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey asked me to accompany him on a fantastic food and wine trip to Friuli and then in February of this year, I led a group of wine bloggers to the Colli Orientali del Friuli (Eastern Hills of Friuli) for a week of tasting, eating, and winery visits.

On Thursday of this week, I’ll be leading a seminar on the wines of Friuli at The Red Room in downtown Austin.

Here’s the details. Hope to see you there!

Taste with me next week in Austin

Above: Tracie P snapped the above photo in Paris on our first trip to Europe together. It’s one of my all-time favs…

Taste some Tuscan wines with me next Thursday at a wonderful new wine space, “the Red Room,” recently opened by my friend Alex Andrawes in downtown Austin. Should be fun… Here’s the details…

Avocado fundido

Finally made it in for lunch at the much-talked-about Second (and Congress) Bar and Kitchen here in the River City (that’s Austin for all yall who’ve never been here).

That’s the “Avocado Fundido,” above, layered and baked cheese, mashed avocado, and crumbled chorizo (on the bottom) served with fried dough. Fan-friggin-delicious, folks.

Hoping that it might entice BrooklynGuy to come out and visit, I thought I’d post this snap of smoked sausage at one of my fav BBQ joints on highway 290 to Houston, Southside Market in Elgin. The sausage is always juicy and tender there and the sides fresh… Love that place…

Happy Saturday yall!

No trip to Austin, Texas is complete without…

A visit to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon to see Dale Watson

Dale is such a sweet guy and when he heard that Céline Dijon was in town from Paris, he kindly posed for photo op with her.

The joint was packed but some how, some way, we still managed to find a seat at the bar (we always do).

Here’s a little taste of the groovy stuff…

They’re with the band! ;-)