Nous Non Plus forever…

Björn Türoque emailed me the photo above last night after he emceed the 2011 Air Guitar Championship regional finals in Chicago at the Double Door (he took the photo in the men’s room). We played there about 5 years ago, touring in support of our first album under the new name.

You probably already know the story of how and why we changed the name of our band to Nous Non Plus (and if you don’t, here’s the link).

We’re going to begin mixing our new album week after next and our record label is talking about a November release. I can’t wait: it’s our best record yet…


The wonders of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: 1998 Illuminati Zanna

In these heady days of single-vineyard Barolo and Barbaresco with designer labels, lieu-dit Brunello with astronomically impossible scores, and the coveted-by-conservative-elites and dreaded-by-liberal-populists Super Tuscans (if, in the course of my research for my upcoming Friuli trip, I come across the expression “Super Whites” one more time, I’m going to heave), we often forget an earlier chapter in the renaissance of Italian wines when grapes like Aglianico (ever tasted a 1968 Mastroberardino Taurasi?) and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Montepulciano Nero (1979 Pepe, anyone?) stood proudly side-by-side with their Tuscan and Piedmontese counterparts.

“Montepulciano d’Abruzzo,” wrote Burton Anderson in 1980 (Vino, p. 368), “ranks among the ten most prominent DOC wines of Italy.” (The appellation was among the earliest to receive DOC status, long before the DOCG-system was implemented, in 1967.) Two years later, in Italy’s Noble Red Wines, Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman infer (erroneously) that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a clone of Sangiovese Grosso and classify it as one of Italy’s three noble red grapes, together with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (see the opening lines of chapters 13 and 14).

Last week, on a freezing night in the Goose Island neighborhood of Chicago, at a dingy BYOB Cuban joint called Habana Libre, I met up with three men I’d met over the internet, each bearing fantastic bottles of wine (mamas, don’t let your sons grow up to be wine bloggers!).

Phil, Nathan, and Lars and I got to know each other through wine-related social media (and Lars actually saw my French band play back in Detroit way too many moons ago). And this was the second time the de facto tasting group convened when I was in town. Many fantastic bottles were opened that night, including a brilliant Vouette et Sorbée NV Champagne Extra Brut Fidèle, an incredibly savory Willi Schaefer 2007 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, and a Raveneau 2000 Chablis Vaillons (!!!) — all thanks to my hosts.

But the wine that I can’t stop thinking about is the Illuminati 1998 Montepulicano d’Abruzzo DOC Zanna (above).

Phil had found a small and forgotten allocation of 98 Zanna at a local wine retailer and he wisely picked up as much as he could (at an obscenely low price). I’ve tasted a lot of Zanna in recent years and Alfonso made a point of taking me to meet and taste with his good friend winemaker Stefano Illuminati a few years ago at Vinitaly — great guys, both of them.

But, man, I’d never had the chance to taste a Zanna at 12 years out! This wine showed bright, youthful acidity (the secret to its longevity, no doubt) and rich layers of red stone fruit and crunchy, salty red earth. As I munched on my delicious stewed pork and my lightly breaded and fried flattened chicken breast, the aromas and flavors of this wine danced like wild beasts on my tongue, with sweaty horse and bramble notes, evoking, in my mind, an era when Abruzzo was one of the centers of the intellectual outdoorsman’s universe (did you know that King Frederick II of Swabia, emperor of the Holy Roman empire, named the the region’s capital “L’Aquila,” meaning the eagle, because of his love of the art of falconry?).

An unforgettable bottle of wine, thanks to these dudes. But then again, that’s what you get for making friends on the internet!

Phil, Nathan, and Lars: THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Alla prossima… (and ya’ll know what I’m talking about)…

The best hot dog I ever had happened at Hot Doug’s

Family matters took me to Chicago and northwestern Indiana this week (more on that later).

Even though my traveling roadshow of social media was keeping me busy (all a dude needs is a camera, a laptop, and wifi), I did manage to take time out to make it to Hot Doug’s, the much hyped and highly touted “encased meats emporium” on the north side of the Windy City.

Everything you’ve read about this place is true: at Wednesday lunch time, with light snow falling and temperatures below 20° F. (no kidding), there was a line around the block. As a devoted lover of encased meats in general, I’d been wanting to get out to Hot Doug’s for sometime and my moment of truth had arrived. I’m here to tell you: it was worth the 20 minute wait I spent in the cold for that dog (I arrived around 11:45 a.m. and by the time I left the wait had increased to probably 45 minutes).

Hot Doug’s is probably most famous for having topped wieners with foie gras. (And owner Doug Sohn, below, gained notoriety when he was among the first to challenge Chicago’s ban, later repealed, on foie gras.) Being a traditionalist in Nebbiolo and hotodoggery, I went with the classic Chicago dog and a Polish sausage (with sauer kraut and mustard), plus cheese fries and a coke (my bill was less than $8 and, btw, when I ordered a large soda, Doug — who waits on everyone — pointed out that refills are free and recommended that I get a small, thus saving me about a dollar).

Hot Doug’s simply does it right. Dogs can be charbroiled, steamed, deep-fried, or fried and grilled, and the classic toppings applied on the Chicago-style dog are impeccably and impeachably aligned with the North American hot dog canon: “Mustard (yellow, spicy brown, honey or Dijon), Caramelized Onions, Relish, Tomatoes, Pickle [wedge not slice], Celery Salt [the sine qua non IMHO].”

I also really dug the Ramones-heavy mix that was playing the day I was there. Forget all the hype and all the paraphernalia (however fun) that surround Doug Sohn’s “emporium”: I highly recommend this joint.

Stay tuned for my harrowing escape from clutches of insipidness in the culinary wasteland of Bruce Springsteen’s America, on deck for tomorrow.

Best wine in Chicago and what Comrade H had for dinner

Comrade T recently wrote me asking for advice on where party members find good wine in Chicago. I reached out to Comrades N and L for their advice and here’s what they said (paired with Comrade H’s excellent dinner, including Comrade B’s Dolcetto).

Start with the first good cherry tomatoes of the summer.


Comrade J, we’re always happy to aid the cause.

Webster’s and Rootstock are the most simpatico establishments in my view. Avec is also a good choice.

Good garlic.

If you really want top Italian wines (including properly aged), head to Spiaggia but be prepared to pay dearly for the privilege.

Comrade T, if you need recs for restaurants, shops or anything else in town, feel free to drop me a line.

Wild arugula.


The two Comrade N mentioned are really it in terms of well thought out, conscientious lists. Again, Comrade N is right in that Spiaggia, while quite expensive, has a very well thought out list. And Alinea, too. This is just more of a beer town (and BYO which helps). That said some places do have nice lists. I just went to the Purple Pig the other week and was able to find a few things (they have some López de Heredia there).

Life is good.

Anyway, below is a list that I put together for someone a couple months ago. The only thing I’d add is the new Girl and the Goat that just opened by Stephanie who won Top Chef a couple seasons ago.



And of course, good oil (sourced from Rare Wine Company), good wine (Comrade B’s Dolcetto), good vinegar…



(and buon weekend, ya’ll!)

Tasted: Gaja 64, 78, 89, 97, 00, 04


Above: An enviable flight, if I do say so myself. The 64 was simply stunning and the 89 gorgeous.

As a good friend and admired colleague of mine says, “whether you like the wines or not, tasting Gaja is always an interesting experience.”

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend an impressive tasting with Gaia Gaja, who was also in Chicago (it was a trade tasting organized by her importer and I managed to snag a spot, the fly on the wall, so to speak).

I’ve actually tasted quite a bit of Gaja recently: the Barbera 7 and I visited Gaja while were in Piedmont in March (Fredric recently published his account of our visit over at Palate Press.)


Above: It was remarkable to see the evolution of the Gaja brand, the labels, and the transformation of bottle shape. From a classic Albese interpretation of the Burgundian bottle shape to a Burgundian bottle with a Bordeaux neck to accommodate a longer cork. Note also the slight changes in color and composition of the labels.

I’m writing in a hurry today because traveling and will write more on what I learned about Gaja the brand and my visit with Gaia the lady in future. And I think that some of you will be surprised by what I learned. I know I was surprised.

In the meantime, here are some quick tasting and winemaking notes.

Barbaresco 1964

“Longer fermentation and maceration” during this period in the winery’s history. Two to three weeks maceration and some slight oxidation because of winemaking practices at the time that gave the wine an orange hint early on. The winery had not implemented its current vineyard management (green harvest and “short pruning”) and the grapes were picked all at once, resulting in some of the fruit not being entirely ripe.

Drinking old Nebbiolo is not for everyone and so some might have disagreed with my take on the wine but I was completely blown away by how good and how alive this wine (older than me) was. Gorgeous brick and orange color, unbelievably seductive tar and earth on the nose, solid acidity and gentle, noble red fruit in the mouth. The mouthfeel of the wine was truly divine.

1978 Barbaresco

The last year with the short cork and the first year that Gaja began to age in barrique The winery had also begun to employ a green harvest at this point, although not “systematically” at this early stage. I’d actually tasted this wine before, a few years ago in NYC: I think this bottle might have been “off,” because it didn’t show as well as I had expected. It had a strong, menthol and Eucalyptus nose and it took a while for the fruit to emerge after I revisited it during the hour or so we spent tasted (the wines had been opened a few hours before the tasting but not decanted). It was almost Baroloesque in its power and showed some spicy notes in the mouth.

Barbaresco 1989

This wine was pure beauty. Great (in my opinion one of the top 3 of my lifetime) vintage, classic and balanced, with “four seasons,” so to speak. Incredible bottle of wine, showing beautifully, and with many, many more years ahead of it. This was one of Italy’s great producers at its best. An incredible elegant lightness and beauty and simultaneous power and tannic structure — the seemingly contradictory essence of Barbaresco, an experience that always brings equine metaphors to mind. Gaia told a great story about this wine. At the end of a school year spent abroad to learn English and studying acting (!) among other interests in San Francisco, she tasted this wine in 2004 at a family friend’s dinner party. “I could smell the perfume of my house in this wine,” she said and so she decided, after all, to return home and rejoin her family’s business. A truly life-changing wine, in her case.

Barbaresco 1997

I wasn’t expecting to like this vintage but was really impressed by its drinkability and its balance. “The heat of the vintage shows” but the wine is drinking fantastically well at this moment. It has begun to attain that orange hue of old Nebbiolo and I won’t conceal that I didn’t spit this wine. I thought it showed beautifully. Of all the wines we tasted, this would have been the one I would have most liked to have enjoyed at dinner (while the 89 and 64, my favorites, would have been special occasion wines, meditation wines). Drink it now if you got it.

Barbaresco 2000

This wine is going through a very closed phase of its evolution, very tannic and very tight as we say in our parlance. Like 1997, this was a very warm vintage and I was actually surprised by how reluctant the wine was to reveal its fruit. I really wish I would have had more time with this wine but the time constraints of this tasting (a trade tasting) didn’t allow me to revisit it.

Barbaresco 2004

I’ve tasted this wine on numerous occasions and you’d be surprised by the name of at least one wine writer who revealed very publicly that he enjoyed this wine in a blind tasting. The wine is still very young and very tannic but you can easily imagine the balance that it is going to reveal with aging. As we look back at 2004 with a few years distance, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the vintage is very similar to 1989, very balanced, very classic, and with extreme promise. If I could afford to buy Gaja, this is the wine I’d put in my cellar for long-term aging. A good bet if you’re the betting type.


Above: Gaia and I had a charbroiled cheddardog at Wieners Circle.

After I told Gaia and another a colleague about my adventure at the Wiener Circle (where the proprietors famously berate their customers), our colleague mentioned that Robert Parker had listed it one year as one of his “top ten meals” of the year, she expressed her desire to taste a Chicago red hot.

Impossible wine pairing? Gaja and Chicago red hot? I don’t think I’m gonna touch that one!


Thanks again, Gaia, for inviting me to such an incredible tasting! And thanks for the cheddardog!

Mamma mia! Here I go again (my new gig)…

Today finds me on my way to Chicago, city of my birth. I’m headed to the Windy City for the launch of a new gig, the Boutari Social Media Project 2010. For the next year I’ll be traveling around the country, tasting wines from 6 estates in the Boutari family of wineries, and talking to folks who pour and pair Greek wines with their favorite foods.

What better place to start than Greektown Chicago?

I’ll also be in San Diego over Mother’s Day weekend pouring Greek wines on Sunday May 9 at Jaynes Gastropub (5-7 pm). More details to follow…

Back in November 2009 when I was first approached and asked to write a proposal for this project, I never thought it would come to fruition. And now here I am about to board a plane… I’m truly honored that my proposal was chosen and that I’m about to embark on what I believe will be a ground-breaking adventure. Trips are also planned for New York, Miami, and Houston.

Mamma mia! Here I go again!

Stay tuned…