Shepherd’s pie, a wonderful Chinon, and a baby on the way in San Diego!

Doesn’t Jayne look great? (Jon doesn’t look bad either!) Their baby will be arriving sometime next month and Tracie P and I are sending them lots of love and good wishes! We are so excited! :-)

We caught up with them last Saturday at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego where everybody knows your name.

The weather was actually kinda cold last week in not-so-sunny Southern California and so Tracie P ordered the shepherd’s pie. Delicious…

Jon turned us on to the 2008 Pensées du Pallus Chinon, very focused, classic expression of Cabernet Franc. Great pairing on a chilly eve… (Paired well, too, with can’t-live-without-him Yele, whom you can see between the bottle and the glass.) Although I’d love to revisit this excellent wine, slightly chilled, this summer with the legendary Jaynes burger (voted top San Diego burger by a panel of judges on one of my favorite SD food blogs, Food Is My Favorite).

Jayne is a gorgeous mother-to-be and, man, this baby fever sure is contagious, ain’t it? ;-)

Is Mascarello the new Che Guevara?

Above: waiter Lindsay Smith was wearing the Bartolo Mascarello t-shirt at Terroir Thursday.

During my junior year of college at the Università di Padova in 1987, dorm life (at Casa dello Studente Monte Cengio) required: 1) drinking sangria from a trash can; 2) knowing the words to Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up”; and owning at least one Che Guevara t-shirt (there were also certain skills that proved useful but we won’t go into those now).

I was blown away when I spotted a camouflage-green Bartolo Mascarello t-shirt reminiscent of the Che t’s we used to wear way back when (and still favored by college students across the world) at Terroir — a new, radical, and vehemently anti-Parkerization wine bar in the East Village (click through the website to read the owners’ manifesto).

One of Italy’s greatest winemakers, Bartolo Mascarello remained a steadfast defender of traditional winemaking and the concept of terroir as others in Barolo and Barbaresco moved toward a more modern style. He was a colorful character, beloved on both sides of the Atlantic, and he never shied from blending traditionalist winemaking, leftist ideology, and charged political views. One of his most famous labels read “No Berlusconi, no barrique” — an apt, poignant, and pungent analogy between the use of barrique aging (and those who favored it) and Italy’s richest man and then prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi (who once famously told journalist Enzo Biagi, “If I don’t enter politics, I will go to jail and become bankrupt.”). Check out Eric’s obituary of the great Bartolo.

My childhood friend and electronic performer extraordinaire Irwin (left) was in New York last week for a recording session and so we connected last Thursday at Terroir.

I asked chef and co-owner Marco Canora to talk to us about the restaurant’s concept and he launched into a zealous diatribe against Robert Parker balanced by a passionate elegiac on Mascarello. One thing that struck me about his harangue was that we, the lovers and defenders of terroir-driven and natural wines, are quick to rail against Parker, but we often neglect to champion and lionize our heroes.

The Che Guevara t-shirt phenomenon may be wrinkle free but it’s not free of irony: the ideals for which Guevara fought and died aren’t exactly embodied by the Andy Wahrolian reproduction of his likeness on t-shirts mass-marketed to naïve college students. But if a locally printed Mascarello t-shirt campaign can help to spread awareness of one of natural wine’s champions, then I’m all for it.

The wine list at neonate Terroir is short and young (Mark and waiter Lindsay Smith told me that it will soon be growing). I ordered the oldest bottle on the list, the 2001 Olek-Mery Chinon Cuvée Des Tireaux. It was fantastic: light in the mouth with earthly Chinon flavors. I also enjoyed a glass of Cicala’s 2005 Asprinio, a citrusy grape from Campania that you don’t see a lot in America.

Irwin and I were both really hungry and we ordered a bunch of stuff: the baccalà (above) had just the right amount of garlic in it and the meatballs were among the best I’ve ever had (Marco’s mother’s recipe) although its tomato coulis was too watery.

Now, if they could just get some older vintages of Mascarello on that list, I’d be sold.

Summer 07 Ends, Eating Raoul’s and Drinking 1990 Chinon


The summer of 2007 will be remembered — in my mind at least — as the summer that I quit my full-time day gig (September 7 was my last day as Marketing Director at the group that runs Centovini, I Trulli, and Vino), the summer that Nous Non Plus went back to France for the second glorious time, the summer that I turned 40, the summer of my official mid-life crisis, and the summer that I fell in love with Cabernet Franc and Chinon.

The seemingly endless and at-times-painful summer of 07 (for there was a promise that unraveled sadly, as well) came to an end on Sunday, September 23 at 5:51 a.m. (or so they say), the day after Yom Kippur and the day after my mother’s birthday.

The night before I left for California (to spend Yom Kippur and my mom’s birthday with the family) was a summery evening in New York and the city was bustling with the last notes of warm-weather partying. I found myself downtown with a wine biz bud and we couldn’t get a table anywhere: Blue Ribbon was packed to the gills, Balthazar was as bustling as Belshazzar’s Babylonia, and a Bellini sludge sparkled and shimmered as it oozed over the sidewalk at Cipriani into the gutter.

The solution? Raoul’s… where the colorful characters and the Negronis (with maraschino garnish) took the edge off a thirty-minute wait for a table. Our reward? The best seat in the house — the deuce in the corner of the dimly lit garden — and a wine list that included a 1999 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia (“the best Burgundy in Rioja,” our skilled and sharp-witted sommelier noted), and a 1990 Domaine Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses, both at very reasonable prices.

I had never been to Raoul’s, a true downtown New York experience where locals with thick eastcoast accents and full heads of hair (some real, some faux) gather, an authentic 1970s scene, too upscale for Scorsese’s Mean Streets but not mundane enough for Allen’s Manhattan.

The Viña Bosconia was light and fresh and went well with my frisée salad (laden with lardoons and topped with a runny egg).

The 1990 Chinon was simply sublime. I’d been drinking Chinon all summer (in Paris and New York) but had never had the chance to drink any older vintages. The 1990 single-vineyard Raffault teemed with the wonderful vegetal flavors that Robert Parker seems to despise — he once wrote infamously, “I have found the majority of these wines (made from 100% Cabernet Franc) to be entirely too vegetal and compact for my tastes” — and it paired beautifully with my steak au poivre, the house specialty at Raoul’s. The wine had a delightful freshness — impressive for a seventeen-year-old wine — and we enjoyed every drop.

By June of 1990, I had finished my first year of post-grad studies at the Università di Padova (where I met my friend, cineaste and novelist Mauro Gasparini, whose excellent blog, I recently discovered). I spent the rest of the summer in San Diego living at home and working as a bike messenger, preparing for the doctoral program at the UCLA Italian Department where, in September, I began teaching Italian language.

I never could have imagined that the summer of 2007 would find me working as a writer and a copywriter on the New York food and wine scene. But stranger things have happened. Hopefully, even stranger things will happen yet.


Above: Eating Raoul, 1982. Isn’t funny that the male lead works in a wine store? Well, it seems funny now.