SP68, pizza, and cousin Marty is doing good…

You can only imagine my thrill at seeing Cousins Joanne and Marty — front and center — last night at my wine seminar at Caffè Bello in Houston. That’s Marty in the foreground at dinner, together with friends Mary Ellen and Dr. Don, FoodPrincess, Delia and VintageTexas, and Tamara and Houston Foodie (Houston Foodie has just relaunched his excellent food blog with a superb post on Neapolitan pizza, btw).

The pizza at Caffè Bello was delicious and I am always geeked to drink Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 — “Strada Proviniciale 68,” an impeccably Natural, reclassified Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Nero d’Avola and Frappato), named after provincial road 68 where it is raised in the province of Ragusa, Sicily.

Marty’s still got a ways to go before he turns the corner on this mean ol’ cancer… but it’s looking good and, man, this dude still runs circles around me… Me and Tracie P love him a lot…

15 is the new 10: scenes from an Asian wine pairing, thinking outside the Bento box

Last night, for the second year in a row, I served as sommelier and speaker at Saheli’s annual benefit in Austin, “Discovering Asian Food through Wine.”

SAHELI is a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, that provides assistance to Asian and other immigrant families dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

This year, Tracie P was able to join me and we had a blast pouring and talking about wine, admiring the many ladies dressed in traditional Asian garb, and tasting the FANTASTIC Asian dishes paired with European and North American wines.

Roughly 150 persons attended the event and it was amazing to see the sea of colors and patterns formed by the tasting plates all lined up for the guests to sample.

The organizers had asked me to select wines at a median $15 price. We were very fortunate to find a great price on the JJ Prüm 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spätlese, a no-brainer pairing for the tart and often intensely spicy flavors of Asian cuisine. What a fantastic food wine…

The wine that impressed me the most was the Planeta 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria. I’m not generally a fan of Planeta. I mean, who needs another buttery Chardonnay or oaky Merlot from Sicily? But then a few years ago my friend Marco Barat insisted that I taste it with him. I discovered that this wine is true to its appellation and deliciously well priced (around $15). When done right, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of those wines that always wows the first-time taster. It was great to watch the guests ooo and aaa over its bright fruit nose and gritty earth. It went great with the Kibbeh (below).

I also loved how we were able to put together a fun flight of wines using the $15 rule: by taking advantage of a mixed case discount, looking for special value, and balancing the higher priced with the lower, I was able to deliver the goods.

When people ask me buying tips, I always tell them: 1) buy from an independent retailer and get to know your merchant well (so that the seller knows your palate and will alert you to special pricing; 2) always take advantage of case discounts (I rarely buy just one bottle of wine); 3) once you establish your budget for wine, use an average per bottle cost so that you have a variety of wines (for drinking every day, for Saturday night dinner, and for special occasions).

And remember: 15 is the new 10!

On the subject of pairing Asian cuisine and European wine, check out Lyle’s hot-off-the-presses post on the new Lotus of Siam in NYC (I’ve only been to the one in Vegas when my band NN+ has played there and am dying to get to the new one in the City).

I also led a private tasting this week at the elite River Oaks Country Club in Houston. But price wasn’t an issue there! The night ended with 03 Sassicaia and 06 Ornellaia… not really my speed but one of those professional hardships I was forced to endure…

Italian wine: the price is right (and catching up on my reading)

It wasn’t easy to get online where Tracie B and I were staying last week in Paris: there was no wireless in Céline’s father’s fourth-floor studio on the Left Bank in the 6th and I am only now catching up on my blog and newspaper reading. (I don’t know: a week’s stay in a private apartment in Paris two doors down from the Seine or wifi? I’ll take what’s behind door number 1, Bob.)

I was thrilled to see Eric’s article on Italian Unknowns in The Times. I am a huge fan of Valle dell’Acate’s wines and was so glad to see the winery get the attention it deserves. The Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of my favorite Sicilian wines — regardless of price.

Now more than ever, Italian wines represent the greatest value for their quality on the market today. I don’t know why Eric second-guessed himself, wondering out loud if “Italian wine buffs will easily cite omissions.” In my view, his picks are right on the money and the price is right.

Back in the blogosphere, Italian Wine Guy continues to blow my mind with how he pushes the envelope of wine blogging. I really dug his use of images from the Pasolini 1961 classic Accattone, set in the tough neighborhoods of Rome (that’s star Franco Citti, above), one of my favorite films of all time. His introspective “Beatrice interviews” offer unique perspective and insight into the world of Italian wine.

I just couldn’t resist Simona’s culinary anamorphism in this post on a traditional dish of her native Umbria, torciglione (above). Whether chopped liver in the form of the Twin Towers (2nd Ave. Deli) or a Renaissance-era depiction of the tower of Cremona to commemorate a noble wedding (Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, 1441), I am a sucker for food fashioned to resemble something else.

I can’t read Vinograf’s blog (it’s written in Czech) but I often find myself staring aimlessly at it. I know its author and I share an affinity for some of the same wines and it’s one of the most visually interesting blogs in my GoogleReader.

Buona lettura (or buona visione, as the case may be)!