tagliatelle ai funghi porcini & a note from Francesco Bonfio

In my post yesterday for the Houston Press, I recounted the last time I was served a bottle of wine that was technically correct but nonetheless off:

    I was in Siena, Italy, the last time this happened to me (about a year ago). My colleague Francesco — the president of the Italian wine shop association — and I ordered a bottle by one of my all-time favorite producers of Chianti Classic, an icon in the field, Castell’in Villa.

    The vintage was 1995, a great one for the appellation. As we ate our delicious tagliatelle ai funghi porcini, we realized that the wine had simply lost its life. It was good. It just wasn’t what it could have been (and he and I had tasted it many times before). Something about it was just off.

    When the restaurateur noticed that we had left three quarters of the bottle on the table, he immediately offered to open something else for us. We thanked him but declined. One glass of wine was enough that evening, however mediocre.

    Francesco bought dinner that night and while I didn’t see the bill, I’m sure that the proprietor didn’t include the cost of the bottle of wine. Next time I’m in Siena, I wouldn’t be surprised if Francesco and I go back to the same place. He eats there at least once a week.

    In my view, this is a great parable about restaurant-going. The economics of fine dining are as much about relationships and human interaction as they are about good food, wine, and service. A bad bottle of 1995 Castell’in Villa? Lupus in fabula

The Francesco in question was my good friend Francesco Bonfio, owner of the excellent Enoteca Piccolomini in Siena and president of the Italian wine shop association, Vinarius.

He encountered technical difficulties as he attempted to leave a comment on the Houston Press site and so he asked me to post it for him (don’t mind his “formal” tone; it’s part of his schtick):


    Thank you for mentioning that occasion. Let me underline one aspect: it is true that the owners of the restaurant know me, and it is true that they did not charge for that bottle. It is also true and I may guarantee to you that they do this all the time because they have this policy with anybody dining at their restaurant. It is also true that this is possible ONLY when the people who dine AND the restaurants owner do know the object of discussion. That bottle was an “unhappy bottle” not a bad bottle and this difference can be found only if both sides know that wine. Consequently it is different if the bottle is sent back just because the customer simply does not like that type of wine. By the way the restaurant was Enoteca I Terzi.

I wanted to share it with you here and I wanted to share the wonderful tagliatelle ai funghi porcini that we were served that night (above). The dinner took place last year in October, the time of year when the porcini are in season.

Thanks, everyone, for all the comments and RTs of the post over on the Twitter. And thanks, again, Francesco for dinner and the wine: even when it’s off, a bottle of Castell’in Villa is always memorable!

Gastronomy as intellectual provocation or “dinner with friends in Siena” (Osteria Le Logge)

Alfonso and I met up in Siena yesterday afternoon and joined good friends Laura and Francesco at Laura’s restaurant Osteria Le Logge for dinner.

As I prepare to head up to Friuli today, there’s not enough time to post properly on the brilliant meal and stunning flight of wines. But here’s a “taste” of the “intellectual provocation”… THANK YOU, again, dear friends, Laura and Francesco, for opening your hearts to two weary Americans traveling along the wine trail in Italy…

Atlantic croaker sausage with mineral-water-macerated lettuces sous-vide

veal tongue Carpaccio in salsa verde

vitello tonnato with seaweed and ポン酢醤油 (ponzu jōyu)

Parisi egg with potato foam and marzolino truffles

fusilli with chicken livers and eggplant

Marcarini 1967 Barolo Brunate

Lou Iacucci: Many mourn a friend who was a friend of Italian wine…

In the wake of yesterday’s post and remembrances of the great Italian wine maven Lou Iacucci, a number of people who knew him wrote to me or commented here on the blog.

Of all the remembrances, I was perhaps most deeply moved by what my friend Francesco Bonfio, president of the Italian associations of wine shops, wrote, paraphrasing a quote uttered by Lou: “I do not want to drink italian wines that taste like French wines and I do not want to pay for Italian wines at French prices.” (Francesco attributes the quote to an interview in Wine Spectator, which I’ll have to track down.)

Amen, I say…

Alfonso sent a scan of an obituary published shortly after Lou’s passing in Civiltà del Bere (vol. 12, ,2 April-June 1988), “Lou Iacucci succeeded in introducing thousands of people to Italian wines.” I’ve uploaded them (2 pages) as PDFs and you can download using the links below.

One of the profile’s subtitles reads: “Many mourn a friend who was a friend of Italian wine.” Italian wine insiders will recognize many of the names of Lou’s peers and colleagues quoted in the article.

Page 1
Page 2

Arianna Occhipinti & Giorgio Grai walk into a winebar…

From the department of “public service announcements”…

How’s this for a premise? [hipster Sicilian Natural wine producer] Arianna Occhipinti (above) and [legendary winemaker, master blender, and race car driver] Giorgio Grai walk into a winebar in Siena… The two winemakers represent the antipodes of Italian winemaking in nearly every way (including geographically!). And they are two of the nicest and most intelligent people in Italian wine today.

I probably won’t be getting up at 3 a.m. (10 a.m. Italian time) on March 16 to watch the streaming of a conversation between Arianna, Giorgio, the original Italian celebrity chef Gualtiero Marchesi, Giuseppe Vajra (one of our favorite winemakers), and a few other Italian food and wine luminaries. But I’m hoping that someone will have the good sense to post a YouTube somewhere. The icing on the cake: one of my favorite Italian food bloggers, Stefano Caffarri, curator of Appunti di Gola, will be moderating.

My good friend Francesco Bonfio, president of Vinarius (the association of Italian wine shops) is the organizer.

Here are the details.

In other news…

One of the winemakers I admire the most (for the superb wines he makes and for his honesty and soulfulness), Angiolino Maule has announced the dates of the VinNatur conference and tasting at the Villa Favorita, March 24-26.

Of all the Natural and biodynamic wine fairs in Italy, VinNatur is perhaps the one that thrills me the most and its selection process is the most rigorous. Not only are producers required to practice chemical-free farming, but they are also required to submit soil samples to ascertain whether or not “residual” chemicals are present in their vineyards (resulting from runoff from their neighbors’s vineyards).

In past years, my very close friend and jazz guitar virtuoso Ruggero Robin has performed at the event (he and Angiolino — an accomplished musician in his previous life — are good friends, as well). I don’t know yet if Ruggero will be there but I hope so!

Best value Chianti (but sorry, fellow Texans, not available here)

Above: My good friend Francesco treated me to a bottle of 1995 Chianti Classico by Castell’in Villa at the Enoteca I Terzi in Siena when I visited in October.

Castell’in Villa is one of my favorite producers of Chianti Classico. It’s actually one of my all-time favorite Italian producers: traditional-style, pure Sangiovese, grown in galestro-rich stony soils at excellent elevation and with superb exposure, and raised in large cask. The wines are remarkably affordable (I recently bought some of their entry-tier 2007 for under $25) and the winery continues to draw from what must be an astonishing cellar, offering importers library releases that stretch back to the 1970s (I’ve tasted back to 1979).

The only problem is that you can’t get the wines in Texas.

Above: We paired the 95 with housemade tagliatelle tossed with funghi porcini that night in Siena.

Well, actually, there’s another problem: the wine is readily available in the U.S. but Texas won’t allow out-of-state retailers to ship the wine here. It’s against the law. Unless, of course, you set up shop as a winery in Texas — even if you don’t make wine. Yes, a winery that doesn’t make wine…

I’ve already pissed off a lot of folks today with my post over at the Houston Press, “Absurdity of Texas Wine Shipping Law Reaches New Heights”, about Friday’s news that the Texas alcohol authority has granted a winery license to Wine.Com, eve though — in the TABC’s own words — Wine.com doesn’t produce wine. With the license, Wine.com will now be able to ship wine to retail customers within Texas.

I knew this issue would press some of Tom Wark’s buttons: he’s spent the last few years campaigning against the anachronistic, obsolete, gerrymandering laws that regulate retail shipping of wine in our country. I sent the link to Tom this afternoon and he responded immediately:

    But here’s what needs to be understood. Wine.com is actually only able to sell and ship wines to Texans that it first purchased form a Texas wholesaler. That means that the Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico you mentioned can not be sold by Wine.com and shipped to a Texas consumer unless wine.com buys that wine from a Texas wholesaler.

    What’s really interesting is that Wine.com set up a physical presence in Texas and got the wine producers license in stead of a retailers license. You know why? Because a few years ago, when SWRA was suing texas for discriminating against out of state retailers, the TX legislature passed a law that limited Texas retailers to only shipping wine into the county where the physical retail outlet was located. However, a Texas “WINERY” can ship ship throughout Texas.

Above: A San Francisco-based retailer shipped me the wine regardless of the TABC restriction. It’s a great value and one of my favorite wines.

For the record, I side with many of my colleagues in the trade when it comes to the three-tier system in the U.S. I believe, like them, that the three-tier system helps to keep costs down and it protects the consumer by making it difficult for importers and distributor to monopolize brands.

But what the hell, yo????!!!! Ain’t America a free country? As a U.S. citizen, shouldn’t I have the right to purchase a bottle of wine from a retailer in San Francisco or New York and have them ship it to me?

Most retailers ignore the TABC restrictions anyway. And I have a secret for you: the rich folks in Texas? They spend so much money at the high-end retailers in New York and Northern California that the sellers will always find a way to get them their high-cost wine.

Me? I just want my under $25 bottle of Chianti Classico by Castell’in Villa! And by golly, it went great with a bottle of ranch dressing from Walmart! So there!

Here’s the link to my post over at the Houston Press.