Bobby Stuckey & Lachlan Patterson in Austin (Georgia’s first wine tasting!)

Bobby and Lachlan were in town yesterday hosting a luncheon at Vino Vino for their line of wines, Scarpetta, including their new Barbera del Monferrato, which we loved.

We’ve become friends after we traveled to Friuli together a few years ago and then Tracie P and I had one of our all-time favorite meals at their restaurant last year before Georgia P arrived.

Master Sommelier Bobby is the apotheosis of cool and the sweetest guy…

Chef Lachlan is the Indiana Jones of Italian restaurateurship in the U.S. His focus is intense but it never blurs his passion. The soulfulness of his cooking is never eclipsed by his celebrity. And yes, ladies, he’s single!

His riso adriatico was stunning. They had been in Dallas the day before and Alfonso posted on the lunch here. “One of the best meals of 2012,” Alfonso told me a voce.

Our good friend April Collins, their Texas broker and one of the most beloved wine professionals in the state, did a superb job orchestrating the event.

Georgia went to her first fancy wine tasting and luncheon! She was SO good and a lot of friends got to meet her for the first time.

All of the top Austin wine professionals were there. We’re lucky to be part of such a close-knit wine community.

Best meals 2011: Frasca (Boulder)

Dinner at Frasca with Tracie P in September was one of the best meals of my life… for the food, for the wine, for the fun, and for the sheer joy of sharing it all with the woman I love…

When Tracie P and I talked about one last “babymoon” before the last trimester of our pregnancy (when she can’t fly anymore), she expressed her desire to dine at Frasca in Boulder. And so on Saturday, we headed for the Rocky Mountains and one of the best meals we’ve ever had.

It’s so hard to get properly sliced prosciutto in this country and I have told Tracie P about Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s obsession with reconditioned vintage Berkel slicers and how their beveled blades make all the difference (it’s in the diffusion of the heat, Lachlan explained to me last year when we traveld in Friuli together). When our server asked us about what we wanted to eat, the first thing out of (and into) Tracie P’s mouth was: P-R-O-S-C-I-U-T-T-O!

Co-owner Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey graciously offered to select the wines for us and it was only fitting that we start with 2010 Malvasia by Venica & Venica: Lachlan, he, and I tasted the wine together last September at the winery in Collio not long after it had been harvested. We loved the spice in this vintage of Malvasia by our good friend Giampaolo Venica.

Lachlan’s frico was off-the-charts good.

Bobby surprised us with this 09 lees-aged Sauvignon Blanc by Borgo del Tiglio, a winery I’d never tasted or seen in the U.S. I love the muscular style of Sauvignon Blanc embraced by certain Friulian producers. If ever there were an international grape variety to grow in Italy, it would be Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, where winemakers can obtain sublime expressions of this aromatic grape. The 09 Tiglio had a crazy spearmint note on it and it was amazing to see this intense wine evolve over the course of the evening. (Note how Bobby decanted it for us.)

Lachlan’s cooking is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. His gnocchi had that perfect balance of substance and lightness.

His ravioli were stuffed with a “deconstructed ratatouille,” in other words, all of the ingredients of the classic French dish, but prepared separately. Again, the quality of Lachlan’s pasta is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. (Note the yellow color.)

1997 Schioppettino by Ronchi di Cialla was one of the most incredible wines we’ve drunk this year. Unbelievable minerality with this bright, fresh grapey note and under 13% alcohol. Simply incredible… It was gorgeous with Lachlan’s roast pork loin.

After dinner, Lachlan gave us a tour of the kitchen and revealed some of the secrets behind his Neapolitan pizza, served at their new pizzeria next door. Believe it or not, we actually went next door after our 3-hour dinner and ate again! I’ll post on the pizza later this week.

At certain point during our dinner, we were having so much fun that we were nearly overwhelmed by the joy of sharing food and together. Almost simultaneously, we looked into each other’s eyes and it was as if the same thought had just come to our minds at the same moment. I looked at Tracie P and told her I loved her and that it’s a miracle that we found each other: there’s no one else in the world that I could share an experience like this.

See that glimmer in her eye (as she enjoys a Sanbitter before dinner)? It makes me melt like prosciutto on her tongue…

IMHO, Frasca is the best Italian restaurant in the U.S. and you really can’t go wrong there. But it’s so much better if you go with someone you love…

There’s so much more to show and tell about our dinner in Boulder but it’ll just have to wait… Stay tuned and thanks for letting me share this special evening with you!

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!

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…

An unforgettable dinner at Robert del Grande’s RDG

Next stop in our celebration of Tracie P’s birthday weekend (which, according to reports from overseas, is now considered a national holiday in the blogosphere), was one of those truly magical rooms, where my true love’s eyes seemed to sparkle from the moment the hostess said, “right this way, your table’s waiting.”

Cousins Joanne and Marty, Tracie P, and I were joined by Tracie P’s childhood friend Talina at Robert del Grande’s newish restaurant RDG in Houston. And de rigueur, we had to start off with what we all agreed is one of the best Margaritas any of us have ever had: equal parts Herradura Silver Tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice (half Persian lime, half Key lime).

Next came Gulf crab…

and beef nachos…

The seared avocado salad was purely brilliant…

Tortilla soup lifted our bright spirits even higher…

The wine list at RDG can be intimidating (and is designed for the high roller) but it also has some wonderful gems and reasonable price points, like this 2004 Deutz Blanc de Blancs. The nose on this wine was so yummy we didn’t even want to drink it! (We also had a bottle of Bobby and Lachlan’s 2008 Scarpetta Friuliano at a great price, btw.)

And the reason why RDG is worth every penny: the attention to detail and the caliber of service (3 staff members on our table) take the ineffably delicious food to yet another level of sensorial reward.

Tracie P and I will be heading out shortly for the last event in her birthday celebration. Aren’t you as glad as I am that she was born? :-)

Prosciutto bloggers unite!

Just had to share this link and send some blog love over to the Prosciuttificio D’Osvaldo in Cormòns (Friuli). That’s a photo I snapped of the D’Osvaldo collection of pigs the other day when I visited with the Ponca 10 (below, later that evening on the Gulf of Trieste). I’ll be posting about D’Osvaldo and what I learned, saw, and tasted there in a few weeks (but first Tuscany and the Veneto!). Stay tuned…

How do you like those jazz hands? ;-)

Getting my spritz on in Friuli

Bobby, Lachlan, and I got our Aperol spritz on during the ora dell’aperitivo (the aperitif hour) in downtown Cividale del Friuli yesterday.

In keeping with my credo no wine without food, no food without wine, I just had to have a few mortadella cubes, even though I knew that much food lay in my immediate future…

Ornella Venica’s favorite wine

The inimitable Ornella Venica greeted me in the late morning with a glass of Pinot Bianco by her family’s historic winery, Venica & Venica. “Maybe not the most popular or important,” she explained, “but my personal favorite.”

For the next 5 days and nights, I’m going to be staying at the Venica & Venica estate in Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia, Friuli) with leading U.S. food and wine professionals Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (owners of Frasca in Boulder, CO), who asked me to join them and a group of wine buyers on a tour of Friuli (sponsored by the Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia).

The main course at lunch was a delicious pork shank prepared by Ornella herself (note the kren in the foreground).

I’d never tasted the Venica Refosco. The 2008 (recently bottled) was killer… chewy and juicy.

I cannot conceal that I am very psyched to hang with Bobby (who helped Ornella clear the dishes after lunch) and Lachlan, two of the nicest dudes in the biz and undisputed Friulian insiders!

Stay tuned…

Red, white, and bubbly carpet: TexSom 2010

Nearly 300 people attended the standing-room-only, sold-out TexSom 2010, the 6th-annual Texas Sommelier Conference, which began yesterday at the Four Seasons hotel in Irving (Dallas, Texas). That’s reigning “Best Sommelier in Texas” June Rodil who helped out with pouring duties for the “Emerging Regions of Italy” seminar.

The event draws some of the best and brightest stars in the world of wine, like Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey (left), who took time out to pose for a paparazzo with Jamie Adams, VP The Sorting Table.

The ever-affable Bartholomew Broadbent is a sponsor and a perennial attendee.

Seven Texas wine professionals will be “seated” at the Court of Master Sommeliers Masters Exam next Monday in Dallas, including Craig Collins (left) and Devon Broglie (right), both of whom serve on the board of the Texas Sommelier Conference.

Best-dressed Texas wine professional D’Lynn Proctor will also be seated at next Monday’s exam.

The “Italian Wine Guy” Alfonso Cevola, Italian Wine Director for Glazer’s Distribution, was in fine form as always.

The Duchman Family Winery (Driftwood, Texas) was also a sponsor of the event and was represented by its Events Mananger Paula Rester (center), Tasting Room Manager Bill Elsey (right, who participated in the “Best Sommelier in Texas” competition) and the president of the winery’s distributor, D’Amore Wine Selections, Julio Hernández.

Wine professionals travel from all over the state to attend, like Antonio Gianola (left), who authors one of my favorite wine lists in Houston, and Greg Randle, who educates and blogs about wine in Austin.

Kevin Pike (Sales Manager for Thierry Theise), together with Master Sommelier Emily Wines (nomina sunt consequentia rerum!) delivered one of the best seminars (on German wines) I’ve ever attended… anywhere. Chapeau bas, Kevin and Emily!

How the paparazzo always gets to go home with the prettiest girl in the room will forever remain a mystery!

Today’s trade-only event begins with a seminar on “Management of a Beverage Program” with moderator James Tidwell MS and panel Bobby Stuckey MS, Antonio Gianola, Paul Roberts MS, and Drew Hendricks MS. Nearly 300 people are expected for the Grand Tasting this evening.

Earthquake (!), pre-Prohibition cocktails and the Grapes perform tonight

Above: The pre-Prohibition cocktails at the newly opened Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego calmed my nerves after a 5.4 magnitude quake!

The San Diego Kid (that’s me) arrived in San Diego from Austin, Texas yesterday only to be greeted by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake. Having grown up here, I’m relatively accustomed to such natural occurrences but the young man helping me at the rental car desk nearly pooped in his pants. Luckily, pre-Prohibition cocktails awaited me at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego (where my friend and colleague @ChezSheila had just launched her newest project).

Above: The San Diego Kid fit right in with the Old Town 19th-century reenactors (no joke!). Note the first appearance of my Nudie boots.

If you happen to find yourself north of the border tonight, come check out the debut performance of The Grapes at one my favorite sushi destinations, Zenbu, tonight at 9. It should be quite a scene…

In other news…

The Do Bianchi Wine Selections Hard-to-Find Friuli Six-Pack is now available, featuring the wines of Scarpetta (Bobby Stuckey’s winery in northeastern Italy). Click here to read about why Tracie P and I like these wines, made by an American in Italy, so much…