Harvest dispatches from Europe are changing the way we understand “vintage”

One of the coolest things about the enoblogosphere this year is the number of European wineries who are posting dispatches from the harvest. I loved the above photo of grapes for Vin Santo posted by my friend Ale at Montalcino Report (he’s been posting regularly about weather conditions and harvest progress).

My friend Laura, also in Montalcino, posted this brutally honest report about the recent heat spike there, entitled “Can someone please turn the hairdryer off?” Not everyone in Montalcino has embraced transparency but a few brave souls like Ale and Laura have.

It’s been a few weeks since he’s posted, but my buddy Wayne in Colli Orientali del Friuli has posted some great photos of harvest (like the one above), including some shots of the young Ethan Bastianich!

Back in July, Wayne did this amazing however sad post of images documenting hail damage in Collio.

Today at the Boutari blog, we posted some images and a report from the harvest in Naoussa by enologist Vasilis Georgiou. Those are Xinomavro grapes, above, waiting to be picked.

Although he doesn’t have a blog, my good friend and Pasolinian comrade Giampaolo Venica has been using social media to document the harvest in Collio. He sent me the gorgeous photo of dawn (above) to illustrate the time of day that they begin picking the grapes, when temperatures are coolest. Beautiful, no?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the 2011 harvest in Europe has been documented like no other before it… all thanks to the internets and a growing number of forward-thinking winemakers.

Know a winery that’s posting about harvest this year? Please share a URL in a comment and let’s a list going! Buona vendemmia yall!

Friuli! Day 1: Valter Scarbolo and how he reshaped the way Americans think about Italian cuisine

Today’s post is the first in a series on my recent trip to Friuli with sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca in Boulder.

Above: Valter Scarbolo (pronounced SKAR-boh-loh), right. His family’s landmark restaurant La Frasca in the province of Udine (Friuli) helped to create a new paradigm for Italian food in the U.S. That’s Shelley Lindgren of A16 (San Francisco) and Joe Campanale of Dell’Anima (New York) in the foreground. When Valter speaks, North American restaurateurs listen intently.

Few if any Italian food and wine insiders, I’m sure, would disagree with me: the first place you need to eat when you visit Friuli for food and wine tourism is Valter Scarbolo’s La Frasca in Lauzacco (not far from Udine).

When I arrived in Friuli in mid-September, the first place my good friend Wayne took me to eat was Valter’s place. (Here’s the post I did the next day on our amazing meal.)

Above: Among other key elements to contemporary Italian cuisine in the U.S., Valter has introduced a generation of North American restaurateurs to the concept of “cult prosciutto,” in this case Prosciutto d’Osvaldo.

A note on the term frascafrasca (Italian) or frasčhe (Friulian) means simply branch. Linguistically and culinarily, it represents a wonderful instance of metonymy (“the action of substituting for a word or phrase denoting an object, action, institution, etc., a word or phrase denoting a property or something associated with it,” OED online edition). In Friuli, a frasca was a roadside stand where producers of cured meats, cheeses, and wines would set up shop to sell their wares. Some believe a branch was placed by the side of the road to draw attention to the stand, while others believe that the vendors would display their products under the shade of a branch. Of course, where wine, prosciutto, and cheese are sold, customers will want to taste with the producer. Ultimately, the term frasca began to denote (as a metonym) a place where patrons gathered to eat (there is a kinship here with the word trattoria). Today, the term is regularly used to denote a restaurant, although Valter’s venue, “La Frasca,” remains the frasca by antonomasia.

Above: One of the amazing dishes that didn’t make it into my post about dinner with Valter Scarbolo was this orzotto, a “risotto” made with barley instead of rice, chanterelle mushrooms and squab ragù.

We all (or at least some of us) remember the “Northern Italian Cuisine” revolution of the 1980s, when restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco seemed determined to expunge “Southern Italian Cuisine” from their menus. In fact, it would more properly be called “pseudo-Northern Italian Cuisine” because the true regional Italian cuisine shift toward the north didn’t take shape until the Bastianich-Batali powerhouse Babbo opened in New York City in the late 1990s.

With the rise of the Bastianich empire in the late 1990s, a new generation of high-end American diners were introduced to Friulian cuisine, first through the Istrian clan’s Frico bar in Manhattan, which I believe opened in 1996 and closed in 2007 (see Eric the Red’s 1996 review here), and then later through Frasca in Boulder, which was opened by Bobby and Lachlan in 2004 (IMHO, one of the top-five Italian restaurants in the U.S. today).

I can tell you from personal experience that both sets of restaurateurs view Valter and his restaurant (which can trace its origins back to the 1960s) as a paradigm for Italian cuisine and hospitality.

Above: The Tagliolini “San Daniele,” actually made at Valter’s using prosciutto by D’Osvaldo, which is made in Cormons, not San Daniele.

The Friulians are an industrious people. Valter is the apotheosis of that spirit and his bright personality and spirtuality express themselves in the metrics of his family’s wines, his superb cuisine, and his warm hospitality. Anyone who knows the man personally, I’m sure, would share my impression.

To know Valter is to know true Friulian gastronomy and I consider myself lucky to know both.

There are many places I’ll be taking Tracie P to dine when we go to Friuli for our vacation in February. But the first will be Valter’s Frasca.

Next up: Ronco del Gnemiz, one of my favorite Friulian wineries…

Are you going to Scarbolo fair? First day in Friuli

Later today I hope to have the time to reveal why and how I’ve come to Friuli.

But before the official working leg of the trip begins, I wanted to take time out to catch up with my friend Wayne, who lives and works in Friuli as the sales and marketing director for the Bastianich winery here.

In a world where ego generally trumps humanity, Wayne is one of the rare and welcomed anomalies: a right guy, as one might have said a half-century ago, who just happens to work in the top tier of the food and wine industry. When he suggested we go meet winemaker Valter Scarbolo for dinner at his legendary restaurant La Frasca in Lauzacco (Udine), I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Dinner began with Lorenzo d’Osvaldo’s superb prosciutto crudo and ossocollo and Valter’s housemade salame (above).

Next, di rigore, came tagliolini San Daniele.

This was followed by a dish that would have been met with wholehearted approval by any semiotician gourmand, Valter’s raviolo aperto, stuffed with montasio cheese and venison, topped with wild berries. (A bottle of sparkling Verduzzo for anyone who can place the exegetic pun I’ve made for this dish!)

As we were joined by Valter’s son Mattia who had arrived from his kick-boxing workout (and was evidently famished), the conversation turned to the current student housing crisis in Italy, soon to be faced by the young matricola.

As we lingered over intensely aromatic formàdi frant (formaggio frantumato, literally splintered cheese, a classic farmer’s cheese of Friuli), the wine I kept going back to was Valter’s My Time, so-called because, despite the urgings of his enologist, he waits to bottle and releases this wine only when he feels it’s achieved its full potential. As it warmed up in the glass, this wine (made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Tocai fermented in cask) was simply gorgeous, with nuanced fruit and noble structure, delightful with the pasta dishes, intriguing and intellectually stimulating with the cheese course.

Last night wasn’t a time for delving into the details of enogastronomic science: it was time for catching up with an old friend and making a new one.

When it comes your time to go to Scarbolo fair, please remember me to the one who lives there…

Stay tuned…

One crazy ass psychedelic wine shirt

Casual was the call for attire at the wine dinner I hosted on Saturday night at Jaynes Gastropub and so I decided to don the above psychedelic vintage 70s disco shirt (recently unearthed in a box that arrived with my library from my Manhattan storage). I’ve never really been able to figure out what it means. On the back, a bunch of grapes transforms into silver balls. On the front, silver balls reveal a convex image of a wine bottle and one of the balls falls to the ground and bursts. There is an upside down dessert sunset that lines the bottom of the shirt (from the wearer’s POV, it looks like a sunset).

I’ll post more on the dinner tomorrow so stay tuned: Australian wines I like! Yes, I actually found some!

In other news…

Tom, I thought you’d never ask! Tom over at Fermentation posted my BloggerView interview yesterday. Tom’s blog is currently the number 1 most-visited wine blog in the world and I was thrilled that he asked me to do an interview. I had a lot of fun with it and was flattered by Tom’s generous words. Click here to read.

Even more thrilling was the revelation of what will become my new tag line: “Guitar slingin’ somm and scholarly scribe of vinous humanism Jeremy Parzen.” Thanks, McDuff, for the new epigram and thanks for the generous shout out.

Lastly, due to an editing error on my part, one of my favorite wine blogs ended up on the cutting room floor of Tom’s interview: Wayne Young’s blog The Buzz is most definitely one of my daily reads. Sorry about that, Wayne!

In other other news…

Check out this way cool Austin slide show and profile in The New York Times Travel mag. It features the Broken Spoke where I’ve been playing some gigs lately.

Who knew that Austin was such a great place to live? ;-)

I moved here for LOVE. :-)

Grape porn from around the world (harvest has begun)

Come on, just admit it… We ALL like to look at a little grape porn now and then, don’t we? Even Alder likes him some grape porn.

It’s that time of year again and bloggers have been posting photos of the harvest as it progresses.

My favorite grape porn photo so far is the one above by Wayne over in Friuli.

In Montalcino they began harvesting Moscadello di Montalcino last week and this week they began to pick the Merlot. The Merlot comes in earlier than the Sangiovese. Alessandro posted the photo above: he and his father use the Merlot to make their Super Tuscan Mazzoni. (See, it’s okay to like Merlot, as long as you label it correctly.) So far, so good: it’s looking like a good harvest in Montalcino.

Over in Napa, Vinogirl author of Vinsanity posted this image of Pinot Gris — yes, the red grape that we’ve been taught to think of us a white grape. (Vinogirl has also been coming up with some sassy titles for her posts.)

From the Greek pornos (prostitute) + graph (writer), pornograph means literally someone who describes or writes about prostitutes.

I would hardly call those little berries prostitutes but they sure can be sexy and I’m not sure why, by they do inspire mimetic desire in me (mimesis means imitation in Greek).

For some vintage grape porn, like the image to the left, check out these beautiful plates from Giorgio Gallesio’s Pomona italiana (completed in 1839).


Didn’t George Harrrison write a song called “I, Mimesis, Mine”? Here’s Elliot Smith’s version.