This man can COOK! Dinner with Bill and Patricia

Photos by Tracie P.

Just had to share some images from last night’s dinner in the home of our good friends Patricia and Bill.

Tracie P and I met Bill last year at a Valpolicella tasting and we’ve been friends ever since. Dinner began last night with jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon and grilled (below). Only after I recited Artusi’s open letter to meatloaf did Bill acquiesce and agree to let us try his meatloaf from the night before.

“Signor polpettone venite avanti, non vi peritate,” wrote Pellegrino Artusi in La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, first published in 1881). “…lo so bene che siete modesto e umile…”

“Please step forward Signor Meatloaf and please don’t be shy… I know that you are modest and humble.”

He cubed it for us and we ate it cold. It was delicious.

It’s hard to describe how much sheer, pure fun we have when visiting with Patricia and Bill. Patricia is an interior designer by trade and their lovely Mediterranean-style home above Pease Park in Austin is a happy labyrinth of wonderful artifacts, paintings, and beautiful objects.

From his tales of working with the Israeli army to his anecdotes of Charlie Wilson and his time working in Washington, D.C., there’s never a dull moment in Bill’s presence. And the man can COOK. Bill made an unusual pasta shape, lanterne, dressed with a vodka-tomato sauce inspired by the Trattoria alla Vecchia Bettola in Florence. We paired with a bottle of 2008 SP68 by Occhipinti (which just came into the market here in Austin, available at the Austin Wine Merchant).

Next came involtini di vitello, veal rolls stuffed with mozzarella and accompanied by roast potatoes. We paired with a superb bottle of 2007 Bourgueil Cuvée Alouettes by Domaine de la Chanteleuserie (not sure where Bill picked that up, but I would imagine the Austin Wine Merchant). A supremely delicious pairing however you sliced it.

Customarily, one dines in the dining room when attending a dinner party chez Patricia and Bill. But on this special night it was just the four of us and so we ate in Tracie P’s favorite room in their house, the cappella. My lady loves her a turret!

Thanks again Patricia and Bill, for an excellent meal and a fantastic evening. We mustn’t let so much time pass between our visits again!

Natural wine in Texas and the woman man behind Charlie Wilson’s war

cruz de comal

Last week I spent an afternoon and evening with maverick grape-grower and owner of La Cruz de Comal winery Lewis Dickson, who, together with winemaker Tony Coturri, who oversees vineyard management and flies out to Texas Hill Country every summer to vinify the harvest (since 2001), may very well be the only natural winemaker in Texas.

I can’t talk about the wines (yet) because my post on our visit, our conversation, and our conference call with Tony will be part of the second edition of 31 32 Days of Natural Wine, which begins on June 19. I can’t reveal (yet) what Tony said to me about how he is able to make these wines with no addition of sulfur whatsoever.

But I can share the below photo of one of Lewis’s super-cool nineteenth-century hand-wound French rotisseries.


And in the spirit of “it’s almost lunchtime here in Texas,” I’ll share our tasty repast that night, leg of lamb that had been marinated for 3 days in wine must, roast potatoes, and freshly wilted spinach topped with mozzarella di bufala and cayenne pepper:

cruz de comal

Hungry yet?

In other news…

Yesterday, at cousin Alexis’s graduation party, I had the chance to sit down and chat with a Texas icon, Charlie Schnabel.

jeremy parzen

As per an age-old Hollywood convention, Charlie was played by a woman in the Mike Nichols movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie was Wilson’s right-hand-man in Washington during the congressman’s covert war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. During that time, he traveled more than a dozen times to the region. “Read the book,” he said joking about the fact that he’s played by a woman on screen, “it’s better than the movie.”

jeremy parzen

Charlie had stopped by to help celebrate Alexis’s graduation: Texas barbecue (chicken, ribs, and brisket), all the fixings (including sweet creamed corn), iced tea (sweetened and unsweetened), and — get this — homemade ice cream.

We talked about the dandelion wine he makes at home and his love of Lambrusco, and I asked he why he thought Texas has played such an important role in the iconography of the U.S. “Because of size of our state, it’s really five different states,” he said. “It’s really a country… with a wide range of climates and people, from the Spanish settlers to the Indian culture that was already here. We’ve never lost the independent spirit.”

He also told me what really caused the 1983 fire in the iconic Texas state capitol, where Charlie served as the secretary of the senate for more than 30 years. But I’ll have to share that with ya’ll a voce… ;-)

Check out this cool profile of Charlie, a Texas icon.

Amphora-aged Primitivo, pozoles and old Rioja, and a Texas wine I liked

Above: This week, Tracie B and I attended our first holiday party of the year at the home of Texas “natural treasure,” author, radio personality, blogger and all-around delightful host, Mary Gordon Spence.

Man, has it been a crazy week — between work, Tignanello triage, the new Amarone DOCG, and the holidays upon us!

Above: Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely eat sweets. But homemade flan? Mary Gordon found my weakness!

Tracie B and I are headed to La Jolla for the weekend, a good thing since snow is expected today in Central Texas!

I’m working on my “interesting wines coming out of Tuscany these days” post and I received a lot of great recommendations from a bunch of Italian wine professionals and bloggers. Thank you, all. I’ll post them next week.

Above: George O brought this bottle of what I’m guessing is a dried-grape red wine from the Texas Hill Country made by Tony Coturri at the La Cruz de Comal winery. It was a great pairing for the flan.

If you haven’t seen it already, please check out this wonderful post authored by Franco (and translated by yours truly) on the amphora wines made by Vittorio Pichierri in Sava (Manduria, Apulia). Amphora wine is all the rage these days. Gravner started making wine in amphora in the late 1990s? Pichierri has been aging his wines in interred amphora since the 1970s and beyond (he uses an ancient format called capasone).

Above: We were joined by the inimitable Bill Head, whose tall Texas tales alone are worth the price of admission (seated next to Tracie B), his lovely SO Patricia, and George O. Jackson (right), photographer and author of a photo collection I am dying to see, Essence of Mexico 1990-2002, images of folklore he captured traveling through rural Mexico.

Dinner at Mary Gordon’s was just the excuse I’d been waiting for to open some older López de Heredia that a client gave me. The 1990 Tondonia white was stunning, as was the 1991 Bosconia. We opened both bottles as we sat in Mary Gordon’s living room and munched on jícama and chips and salsa: I couldn’t help but think about how great these oxidative wines are with food. The 2000 Bosconia Reserva was great with Mary Gordon’s excellent pozoles.

The conversation turned from tales of larger-than-life Charlie Wilson from Bill’s years in Washington to Mary Gordon’s memories of working for President Lyndon B. Johnson, to George O’s adventures in rural Mexico. I spent the whole evening on the edge of my seat. Maybe it’s because I live here now but it always impresses me how Texas often finds itself at the center of the American collective consciousness and American iconography.

Thanks again, Mary Gordon, for such a wonderful evening! And happy holidays to all ya’ll!