Barolo Villero by Brovia (New York Stories I; @saignee wish you were here)

“My mother was disappointed that I didn’t become an architect,” said Victor Pinkston as he opened and poured me and my good friend Jeff a bottle of 1999 Barolo Villero by Brovia on Thursday night in Manhattan at Otto. “But then I showed her the watch that she gave me [above] when I was a kid and told her that ‘it was meant to be.'”

Victor’s done pretty well for himself: after five years as a company man in the Bastianich-Batali dynasty, he’s landed the job as wine buyer and head sommelier at the empire’s pizza joint.

And while he and I may disagree on the finer points of the modern vs. traditional dialectic, the dude definitely knows his shit.

When I lived in the City, Otto was one of my best-kept secrets: although not a fan of the university and tourist crowd that hangs there (Otto is, after all, “Molto Mario Light,” if such a thing can exist in the rational and sensual world), I knew I could always find some older Nebbiolo there at reasonable prices. Back in the day, I practically depleted an allocation of 1993 Barbaresco Nervo by Pertinace at $75 a pop (there are still some bottles left although at a higher price). And when I asked Victor what trick he had up his sleeve, he suggested no fewer than five labels from the 90s under $150, including an Oddero Barolo (classic) 1996 (wow!).

But it was the 1999 Barolo Villero by Brovia at $140 that spoke to me. (Remember this post by Saignée on our visit to Brovia a few years ago?)

I am no fetishizer of old wine and you’ll never hear me cry infanticide when a great one is opened before its time. But I must admit that this bottling was going through an extremely tight phase.

It was dense and deliciously chewy, with mushroom and earth dominating the fruit. But as Jeff and I slowly nursed this spectacular bottle, the berry fruit began to emerge, as did a delicate eucalyptus note, with the zinging acidity — the nervy backbone, as the Italians say — plucking on the strings of fruit and earth like Jimi Hendrix playing the first notes of “Little Wing.”

That’s me and Cory aka Saignée (left) with Giacinto Brovia back in March 2009 (photo by Brunellos Have More Fun). And here’s what Saignée had to say about our visit there.

Let’s just hope that Victor saves a bottle of this truly thrilling wine for us to taste next year.

Stay tuned for New York Stories II: Alice and I visit Maialino… or “two Jews walk into a Jew-owned bar named ‘suckling pig'”…


Both Tracie P and I had a tough week this week. Let me just put it this way, people: sometimes work is a bitch.

And so last night, when work was done, we decided to treat ourselves to an evening of dueling DJs (Tracie P took it over the top with MJ’s “Wanna Be Starting Something”), kitchen-dance-floor grooving, Polaroid self-portraits, and a bottle of 2005 Barbaresco by what is probably our favorite winery of all time in history: Produttori del Barbaresco.

The wine was bright, tannic but generously nimble in sharing its lip-smacking wild berry fruit and succulently muddy flavors. We paired with gruyère and crackers, we dedicated songs to each other, we danced around the dining room table, and we forgot all of the worries of our world. It was PRODUTTORI TIME.

Tracie P and I aren’t the only ones obsessed with Produttori del Barbaresco: one of the wine bloggers we enjoy and respect the most, Cory (and one of the funnest and nicest people to hang and taste with, above), wrote about Produttori del Barbaresco in his wrap-up to the 32 Days of Natural Wine, in a piece I highly recommend to you.

Like last year, Cory had to deal with plenty of משוגעת from folks who didn’t agree with this or that and other bullshit.* But, man, this dude deserves a medal. He’s the nicest sweetest and brightest guy and his hypertextual project, 31 32 Days of Natural Wine, represents a truly fascinating study in semiotics, not to mention an encyclopedia in fieri of natural wine around the world. Wine writing is by its very nature an affliction otherwise known as synaethesia — humankind’s overwhelming and at times unbearable urge to capture in words the literally ineffable, ephemeral, and ethereal experience of tasting wine. With his unique project, Cory has warped the boundaries of wine blogging in an exhilarantly meaningful way.

So, people, whether Puzelat or Produttori, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine on this hottest weekend of the year, squeeze your loved ones tight and remind them how much they mean to you, remember that first kiss and the way you felt when those lips touched yours, and remember that very first moment you tasted a wine that made your heart flutter…

* Yiddish meshugas, Esp. in Jewish usage: madness, craziness; nonsense, foolishness; (as a count noun) a foolish idea; a foible, an idiosyncracy (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).

Kitchen-sink paella and pleonastic etymologic Sunday morning musings

Photos by the angelic Tracie P.

In Austin, Texas, one really needs no particularly apparent reason to throw a party, other than the patent excuse that the weather’s nice and it’s Saturday. Such was the case when a group of folks gathered in the home of Austinite food and wine personality (and all-around nice guy) John Bullington yesterday for a paella party, a series of paelladas, including some very traditional expressions and highly unconventional interpretations, like the one above, including orange slices, purple carrots, Brussels sprouts, and roast chicken, among other ingredients (and omitting saffron for at least one safranophobe). John cooked the paella over an open, pecan-wood fired pit, and at least one observer could not help but admire his collection of paelleras.

Upon noting praise for his paella prowess, John pointed out that is the perfect place to purchase such implements.

A philologist and lover of words at heart, I couldn’t help but note the pleonastic nature of the binomial paella pan, the pan pan, so to speak, a linguistic conundrum akin to that encountered in the La Brea Tar Pits, in other words, the the tar tar pits. Indeed, the lemma paella has become so deeply entrenched in our everyday parlance that it has lost its connection to the etymon patina (patena) and later patella, meaning [open] pan, from the Latin pateo, meaning to open (which also gives us Anglophones patent, meaning open, widespread, unobstructed, clear, evident, obvious).

Okay, so now you know what I sit around and think about on an early, lazy, sleepy Sunday morning as the genteel Tracie P slumbers angelically.

Monday morning promises to deliver some significantly less whimsical wine blogging (stay tuned)… In the meantime, let’s all hope that everyone’s favorite natural wine blogger Saignée can be delivered swiftly and safely back to his lovely better half… He’s stuck somewhere between a volcano and San Francisco. Let’s all wish him buon viaggio

And buona domenica to the rest of ya’ll…

Our date with the City, part 2: the best natural wine bar in the U.S.?


Above: I may be going out on a limb here when I say that Ten Bells seems to have captured the title of the “best natural wine bar in NYC” but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway. The selection of stinky cru Beaujolais was pretty impressive, even after affable owner Fifi Essome had sold out of many of the labels for his Beaujolais festival the Thursday before our Sunday visit. Photos by Tracie B.

Whether it’s Saignée, Wine Digger, Eric, Alice, or McDuff, it seems like all of my fav bloggers are either writing about or hanging out at The Ten Bells on the Lower East Side of New York City (which takes its name from the homonymous and notorious London pub).

So after Tracie B and I finished lunch with Michele at Kesté, we took a stroll over to the east side and picked up Alice in SoHo and walked down the Bowery to Broome and Orchard on the Lower East Side and tasted a few of the by-the-glass Beaujolais selections that were leftover from the wine bar’s Beaujolais festival the previous Thursday — and what an impressive, if picked-over, list it was!

alice feiring

Above: Alice Feiring is one of my dearest friends and one of the persons I have known the longest in New York. Her book The Battle for Wine and Love was recently released in paperback.

Beyond Lou on Vine in Los Angeles, which remains my favorite American winebar, I can’t think of anywhere else you will find a greater selection of natural, stinky wines. And while Lou can trump nearly any joint for the hipster celebrity sitings on any given night, The Ten Bells seems to have become the official backdrop for the natural wine dialectic of our fine nation and seems to be the official satellite office for visiting natural winemakers.

I liked the way McDuff put it best: “The Ten Bells is mysterious… The Ten Bells is dark… The Ten Bells is Dangerous…” Just quickly scanning Fifi’s hand-written chalkboard wine list as Tracie B, Alice, and I caught up after our last meeting in Paris at Racine’s, I eyed at least a score of labels that I wanted to try. The oysters looked fantastic, too.

We had lots to catch up on but the main topic of conversation during our all-too-short visit was Alice’s recent and heated exchange with The Wine Spectator’s James Suckling, who was finally hipped to natural wine by our mutual friend (and jazz guitar great) Anthony Wilson. I’ll be connecting with Anthony early next month and I’ll be sure to get the juice behind the juice he turned Suckling on to!

Our date with the City was too short and there were so many folks and places that we would have loved to have seen. I can’t say that I miss living in New York but you gotta love the buzz of that city, the energy, and the wine. With London, Paris, and Rome, New York is right up there as one of the great wine destinations of the world — whether you’re drinking old Nebbiolo at Manducatis in Queens or stinky, natural Beaujolais on the Lower East Side at The Ten Bells. I sure don’t need it everyday… but a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day in November, with some yummy Beaujolais in our tummies, catching up with some dear friends, felt just right…

Best Thanksgiving wines (or at least, what me and Tracie B will be drinking)

Above: Tracie B and I held an informal wine tasting last night with our friends CJ and Jen, who made some excellent pulled pork for dinner (photos by CJ).

It’s that time of year again and everyone’s doing their “Best Thanksgiving Wines” posts. So I figured I’d do mine. Seems like there’s more humor and a greater twang of irony this year in the otherwise traditionally Hallmark consumerist spirit. Maybe ’cause everyone is so broke (or at least I am), it feels like you’re reaching beyond the perfunctory when you compile these lists. It does occur to me that we in the U.S. of A are probably the only folks who believe in these “best” and “top” lists. I just can’t imagine Franco writing a “Top Ten Christmas” wine list. Can you?

My favorite top Thanksgiving wine post so far was authored by Saignée, “I Feel Obligated to Do a ‘Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Post'” (it’s worth checking out but it also sports a NC-17 rating).

Above: The only wine that exceeded my $20-or-under-rule for this year’s holiday was the 2007 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi, which you should be able to find for under $30. Man, I love that wine.

The Solomon of wine writing and blogging, Eric, poked some fun (or at least, I read it that way) at the Grey Lady’s perennial Thanksgiving suggestions (marked this year by the absence of Frank Bruni) in his post “Six Years of Thanksgiving Wisdom.” I love the wine that Eric brought to the paper’s Thanksgiving tasting, a Frappato by Valle dell’Acate (Sicily). I also love the new wine descriptor, coined and used by Eric to describe it, and I love that it made it past the paper’s grammarians: “earthy chuggability.”

And lest he think that I’ve forgotten him, I got a genuine chuckle and chortle out of Strappo’s “THANKSGIVING WINE STUNNER: EXPERTS CLAIM RED OR WHITE OK!”

This year, Tracie B and I will be heading to Orange, Texas, just like last year, but this year, we’ll also be bringing Mamma Judy with us — her first visit to Texas since I moved here last year. Mrs. B and Rev. B are expecting 24 people at this year’s festivities. Since finances are tight for this fiancé (especially in view of our upcoming nuptials), I tried to keep my wines under $20 (and, for the most part, I succeeded on that part, as they say in the south).

Bucci 2007 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
($22.99 at Jimmy’s in Dallas)

CJ and I really dug the crunchy mouthfeel of this wine and its elegant, lingering finish. The acidity was “tongue splitting,” as Tracie B likes to say.

Domaine Fontsainte 2008 Corbières Gris di Gris
(rosé, $17.50 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

We all agreed that the fruit in this wine was approachable and fun, juicy and tangy. This could go with just about anything at the Thanksgiving table.

Marchesi di Gresy 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba Monte Aribaldo
($18.75 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

I just can’t believe what a value this wine is at under-$20. It’s rich and chewy, surprisingly tannic, and has that noble rusticity that you find in the Marchesi di Gresy.

Mas Lavail 2007 Terre d’Ardoise Carignan
($11.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Tracie B called this “salty” wine “the stand alone” wine of the flight we tasted with Jen and CJ. The price-quality ratio here is stellar (at $11.25? HELL YEAH!) and the wine is chewy, rich, with dark fruit and lots of savory flavors. I can’t wait to pair it with Tracie B’s Meemaw’s deviled eggs and Mrs. B’s sweet potato pie.


Selvapiana 2007 Chianti Rufina
($16.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Selvapiana is one of my all-time favorite producers (one of Franco’s favs, too) and Rufina is one of the greatest expressions of Sangiovese. This wine is tannic and will benefit from a little aeration before serving but once it opens up it’s all about bright acidity and plum fruit flavors. The price range will vary for this wine across the country but it’s always a tremendous value.

Thanks for reading ya’ll! I’m wishing you a great (and safe) holiday with your loved ones.

In other news…

I had a blast pouring and talking about wine and pairing European and domestic wines with Asian food at the Saheli “Discover Asia through Wine” event on Saturday night. The Tandoori chicken (above) was one of the hits of the evening, as was the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, which I paired with the Chinese roast duck. Donations support battered Asian women and immigrants in the greater Austin area.

In other other news…

I’ll be pouring wines from Piedmont and Tuscany this Thursday at the Galleria Tennis and Athletic Club in Houston. Click here for details.

Day 2 of 31 Days of Natural Wine: nothing natural about it

This post is the second installment of Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine. Click the link below for more…

“Natural wine” is something of a misnomer. Wine is, after all, an act of humankind.

It’s true that wine occurs naturally. Aleš Kristančič of Movia once explained to me how when a grape falls from the vine, it is a natural winemaking vessel: the hole at the top of the berry (where the stem has broken away) is a natural valve that allows yeast on the skin to enter the berry and begin turning the sugar into alcohol.

Wine was a gift from the gods (think Bacchus), or a gift of G-d (think Noah), or an accident (think mother Natura), depending on how you look at it: the magic of grape juice being turned into wine was probably discovered by someone who forgot some grapes in an amphora, only to open the vessel later and find that they had been turned into wine (the original carbonic maceration). But the moment that someone employed this stumbled-upon technology (tehnê, meaning art or craft) a second time, it became an act of humankind…

Click here to read more…

In other news…

Dany the Red is now Dany the Green. Remember this post from East Germany back in September 2008? That’s me stage left, above, rocking out with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was in the news today and whose “Europe Écologie coalition of European Green parties came in third in French voting for the [European] Parliament, winning 16.28 percent of the vote. It was just behind the squabbling Socialists, who had only 16.48 percent, and ahead of a presumptive presidential candidate, François Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement, or Modem.” Check out this article in the Times. I love how the girl in the photo above is wearing a bright red outfit.

By now you should know the identity of the mystery girl to whom I threw the kiss!

NPA and NN+ in SF CA

Above: A view from the stage. My bandmate Céline Dijon (Verena Wiesendanger, right) was in a super good mood last night at our show at Rickshaw Stop (hint: a fan was buying her Jameson). The show was a blast and we did three encores. Thanks again to Waldo of Rickshaw for letting us rehearse at the club: enjoy the Clos Roche Blanche Cot we gave you!

It was something of a blogger summit and a meeting of virtual friends last night between Terroir Natural Wine Bar and Merchant and Rickshaw Stop in SF.

Among them were my virtual and now real friends Cory Cartwright (author of Saignée) and his delightful wife Emily. We shared a bottle of the enigmatic 2002 Ribolla Gialla by Gravner. One blogger, who prefers to remain anonymous, noted (and I concur) that the Gravner is an “abstract” wine, a wine (in a certain sense) that you cannot drink. There’s no question that Gravner’s wines are fascinating, thought-provoking, and intriguing: as the wine aerated it revealed a remarkable array of fruit aromas — think dried and moldy apricot (but in the mouth, it still felt to me like the wood dominated). Owners Dagan Ministero and Luc Ertoran were on hand as well, and a lively discussion of “orange wine” ensued and they generously tasted us on a number of bottlings (including Ca’ de Noci and Damijan). Virtual friends Slaton Lipscomb and Simona (author of Briciole) were there, too, and Clark Terry of Kermit Lynch blog fame also joined up at the show.

The most interesting and unique wine of the evening was the Natural Process Alliance skin-fermented Chardonnay (above), sold only in reusable stainless-steel containers. (Spume has written about this wine as has Alice.) This wine is as stinky and cloudy as it gets and it is 100% delicious (maybe not for everyone but just right for yours truly). Slaton noted that it tastes slightly different every time because its malolactic fermentation has not completed when it ships. You can only get locally and I highly recommend it.

The crowd was fantastic last night and we did three encores, closing with a rocking version of “Ca Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand. Tonight we play at an all-ages club in San Jose and I’m just passing time until tomorrow when I get to be reunited with my Tracie B, who’s flying in to visit with her girlfriends and see our show at Spaceland.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go ’round and ’round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire

Human, all too human: remembering Josko Gravner’s son

One of the owners of Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar in San Francisco, Guilhaume Gerard, recently reminded me that that the wines come first, before the people who import them. Guilhaume pointed out rightly that while there are a lot of people in the wine trade whom we admire and care about and others whose scruples give us pause, the wines are what is really important. I agree with him.

To Guilhaume’s observation, I would add only that the wines and the people who make them come before the people who import and sell them.

miha_gravnerToday, after Franco and I posted on VinoWire about the tragic and senseless passing of the young Miha Gravner (left, photo by Alfonso), I was blown away by how many people linked back to our post, on Facebook and on their blogs, writing about how they never met the young man but how, nonetheless, they felt a personal connection to him and his family through their wines. As Franco wrote in his post at Vino al Vino, Miha had begun working closely with his father Josko and would have continued his father’s legacy.

Josko Gravner was part of a small group of radical “extreme” winemakers, who, as Eric wrote today in an unrelated post, vinified and aged their wine in clay amphorae. I’ve tasted Gravner’s wines on many different occasions, from many different vintages, and no one can deny that these are benchmark, original wines, wines that push the envelope of contemporary winemaking by reaching back to the secrets of the ancients. Josko is also one of the fathers of the natural wine movement in Italy and was inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

Cory at Saignée put it best when he wrote:

    If you’ve never had one of Josko’s wine, now is the perfect time to grab a bottle and raise a glass to him. They are some of the most individualistic, interesting, and unforgettable wines in the world from a man who has dedicated his life to exploring the possibilities of what wine can be. i, of course, have never met the man and am only familiar with his wines, but i’d like to think that personality can come across in wine making and that you can know someone just a little through their wines, and i wish him the best through this tragedy.

I imagine that Cory, Guilhaume, and I will open a bottle of Gravner at Terroir on Thursday night before I head over to do our set with Nous Non Plus at Rickshaw Stop.

Stop by if you have the time and we’ll remember a young man who would have made the wines we would have drunk for a lifetime.