An Italian wine walks into a bar…

austin wine merchant

Above: Yesterday, I tasted through the current releases of Fèlsina with my friends, from left, Craig Collins (who works for the winery’s distributor in Texas), John Roenigk (owner and manager of The Austin Wine Merchant), and Chiara Leonini, Fèlsina’s export manager. For the record, Fèlsina is pronounced FEHL-see-nah.

It’s a labor of love and it’s my self-appointed duty: I just spent the first hour of my day translating Franco’s editorial on the list of The Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines and the Italian showing in the list. You’ve heard me say it before: Franco (the “Giuseppe Baretti” of Italian wine) is a friend, a colleague, a mentor, a partner, and one of the wine writers whom I admire most. I encourage you to read what he has to say: here in America, where few read the Italian wine media, we are often unaware of how the Italians view us and our wine media and how our wine media generally ignores the wines and the styles of wine that Italians hold to be the best representation of their enology.

In another editorial published today, by a young wine blogger and marketing consultant based in Apulia, the author writes: “Just think that the first wine in the list is an American wine that costs $27 and the second is a Spanish wine that also costs $27. In order to pay the tidy sum of $110, you have to get to the eighth place in the list for a Tuscan wine that costs a hefty $110!”

Today, I’ll leave the editorializing and pontificating to others, but I do encourage you to put it in your pipe and smoke it, so to speak.

As it just so happens, yesterday I tasted with the export manager for a winery that landed the thirteenth position in the magazine’s list: Fèlsina, whose Fontalloro, a barriqued 100% Sangiovese that has long been a popular wine in the U.S.

“Some would call it a Super Tuscan,” said Chiara (above), “even though I don’t like that term.” And, in fact, the wine actually qualifies as a Chianti, even though the winery has chosen historically to declassify it, initially to vino da tavola status and now IGT (it was first released in 1983, she said, the same year as the first release of the winery’s “cru” Chianti Classico, Rancia).

I’m a bona fide fan of Fèlsina but my favorites are always their entry-level wines, made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, vinified in the traditional style, and aged in large old-oak casks that have been used over and over again. The wines generally cost under $25 and I highly recommend them. The 2006 harvest was a good vintage for these wines, 2007 a great vintage. (I also had fun trading notes with Chiara about our university days in Italy. She studied Chomsky and generative linguistics at Florence, around the same time I studied the history of the Italian language and prosody at Padua and the Scuola Normale in Pisa. We knew a lot of the same professors!)

I’ve spent enough time in front of the computer this morning and it’s time for me to head to Houston, where I’ll be speaking about and pouring Italian wine tonight. So I’ll leave the punch line up to you Italo Calvinos out there…

An Italian wine walks into a bar…

Getting tiggy with it in the ATX

From the “just for fun” department…

On Friday night, Tracie B’s birthday celebration weekend began with a glass of 1987 López de Heredia Tondonia — one of the best wines I’ve tasted in a long while. Our good friend Mark Sayre at Trio at the Four Seasons always has something crazy and stinky for us to drink when we hang out at Austin’s best-kept-secret happy hour (half-priced wines by the glass, happy hour snacks menu, and free valet parking).

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with chef Todd Duplechan’s fried pork belly. He makes a confit of pork belly and then fries it: when he serves it, the fat in the middle is warm and gelatinous and the outside is crispy and savory. You know the story I always tell about the Rabbi and the ham sandwich he “can live without”? Well, I can’t live without Todd’s fried pork belly. He garnishes with a relish made from seasonal vegetables, in this case pickled watermelon radish and okra.

Later that evening, we met up with some friends at the High Ball (no website but does have a Facebook fan page), Austin’s newest (and only) bowling alley cum Karaoke bar cum mixology and designer beer menu. Tracie B had the “Heirloom”: roseberry fizz, citrus infused vodka, elderflower, rosemary, muddled blackberries. The High Ball hasn’t even had its official, hard opening and it is already packed nightly, Austin’s newest hipster hangout and a lot of fun with its art deco, Bettie Page ambiance and clientele.

Thanks to everyone for coming out to my Italian wine seminars at the Austin Wine Merchant. Last night was Tuscany (that’s our new friend Mary Gordon, front row center). Highlights were 2006 Chianti Classico by Fèlsina (such a great value), 2001 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione (this vintage is just getting better and better, always a fav), 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano by Villa Sant’Anna (old-school Vino Nobile that I thoroughly dig), and 2005 Tignanello (not exactly my speed but always a go-to trophy wine). Coincidentally, Laura Rangoni posted an interview with the “father of Tignanello” Renzo Cotarella on her blog yesterday. “Barrique is like a mini-skirt,” he told her, “not every woman can wear one.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Yo, Renzo, get tiggy with it! Thanks for reading.

Nah nah nah nah nah… Get tiggy with it…

California sweet: La Jolla won’t annoy ya…

La Jolla won’t annoy ya
La Mesa what a place-a
Salinas is as keen as it can be
You’ll feel betta in Murrieta
Stomp your feet over Montecito
Go insane for the lovely terrain
Wait and see
Think about all the fun you’ve missed
Come on out here and get sun-kissed
If you really wanna live and not just exist
You better get across our old state line

Mel Tormé
“California Suite” (1957)

Tracie B and I spent our first weekend back in La Jolla since I moved to Austin. The number-one-hit-song highlight was nephew Oscar’s first birthday party. The Riles-Parzen family gathered together in March, 2008, not long after he came into this world, for an “Oscar Party.” That’s brother Micah (Oscar’s dad), me, and the birthday boy (chewing on my lens cap!).

The night we got in, we were 8 for dinner at Jaynes (where else?). The food was great and we drank a fantastic 1997 Felsina Chianti Classico riserva (on the list at a great price) with our main courses and 1985 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione courtesy of Benoit at the end of the fête.

The 97 Felsina showed an irresistible goudron note and its fruit and acidity were great with the seared ahi tuna. Nearly a quarter century in age, the 85 Poggione was bold, beautiful, and proud — with vibrant acidity and gorgeous fruit. I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the last five years and it has never disappointed.

Saturday afternoon found us shopping with Judy at the Asian market in Kearny Mesa, 99 Ranch Market. On her shopping list: rice noodles, preserved mandarin oranges, persimmons.

Hot and sour wonton soup for lunch at Spicy City (4690 Convoy St Ste 107, between Engineer Rd & Opportunity Rd, San Diego, CA 92111, 858-278-1818). Also in Kearny Mesa. So good… I LOVE that place. (I used to get my pre-sbarbato highlights done at the Korean salon in the same shopping mall.)

On Saturday night, Tracie B and I were geeked for sushi with Judy at Zenbu but we wanted to check out the “hot rock,” too. Our waiter told us it was the “biggest rock” she had ever seen. (Thinly sliced beef is cooked on the scalding hot rock.)

I had no idea that my highschool buddy Matt Rimel, who owns Zenbu together with his lovely wife Jacky, was such a fan of Texas. He got this belt buckle there. A professional hunter, he travels to my new home state five times a year for bow hunting, he told me. He invited me to go boar hunting with him this year… I am SO there. Alfonso, you game?

Saturday night ended with a bottle of 2006 Lunar (whole-bunch-fermented Ribolla) by Movia at Jaynes. Benoit and I decided to decant it. I’ll do a post later this week on Lunar and the story behind it. Aleš Kristančič explained to me how he makes it when my band Nous Non Plus played at his winery in April 08. It’s incredible…

The rentacar screwed up and gave us a Mustang instead of the Pinto I had reserved. Me in a muscle car? Why not???!!! When we rolled up to the Jaynes Gastropub, martial arts instructor and bouncer at Air Conditioned next door, Alex, told me, there’s a tough guy underneath my nice-guy skin. He asked me rhetorically: “How else would you have survived so long?” Right on, brother, right on. I’m so glad I made it!