Utterly self-absorbed & absolutely delicious Friulano by Di Lenardo

Hey, I’m the first one to tell you that wine blogging is all about the vanity. The best advice that anyone ever gave me about wine blogging was 1) remember that all blogs are vanity blogs (so true); and 2) write what you feel (as William James once famously said, truth is what works).

“I may not be perfect but it scares me how close to it I am,” reads the message that greets you when you visit the Di Lenardo winery website.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Massimo Di Lenardo and his unrivaled self-absorption and narcissism. And when a friend poured me his Friulano by the glass last night in Houston, I wasn’t expecting much: usually, low-end wine with packaging like “Max’s” delivers yeasted and overly sulfured quaffing wine at best.

It’s a good thing that I had never seen his website before tasting his wine because I don’t think I’d be able to palate it if I had (“take your time, relax and… fly into my world!” he writes).

But when top Houston sommelier Sean Beck poured it for me last night at the Backstreet Café, I was blown away by how fresh, varietally correct, and utterly delicious it was. It had this crazy spearmint note that put it up there with some of the best Friulano I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve tasted A LOT of Friulano). Sean’s pouring it for $7.50 a glass and a quick look at WineSearcher reveals that it generally retails for under $15 in the U.S. I loved everything about this wine.

And the vanity? Max, bring it on!

Above: Caravaggio’s Narcissus. “We watch in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower.” (Can anyone tell me where this lyric comes from? Hint: 1970s prog rock.)

Friuli meets Japan @UchikoAustin

It’s not everyday that you dine at one of the top Japanese restaurants in the country with the woman who wrote its cookbook. Last night I finally caught up with Jessica Dupuy and executive (and celebrity) chef Tyson Cole who took time out to talk about some of his dishes and his approach to cooking at Uchiko with me and travel and wine writer, my friend Bruce Schoenfeld who was in town on business.

Bruce suggested we pair the [Tocai] Friulano by Livio Felluga with a dish of uni, cuttlefish, and lemongrass (above). The minerality and grassy aromatic character of the wine worked gorgeously with Tyson’s creations. I’ll let the food do the talking…

Nantucket bay scallop with nasturtium blossoms, cantaloupe sorbet, and sherry vinegar.

Buri sashimi with pickeled hakurei turnip, saikyo miso, and crème fraiche.

Abalone nigiri with lemon, maldon, and garlic.

Yokai berry with Atlantic salmon, dinosaur kale, Asian pear, and yuzu.

Dewberry Hills farm chicken, short grain sweet rice, banana leaf, and Thai chili vinegar.

A killer Tocai (and a new system for wine ratings?)

Above: Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier and probably the nicest guy I’ve met in the world of fine wine and dining. He came to Austin recently to show the new vintages of his killer wines from Friuli.

“We’re not making a lot of wine,” said Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, when he showed his Scarpetta Pinot Grigio and Tocai Friulano from Friuli in Austin the other day to a group of Texas wine professionals. “But Texas stepped up to the plate with our 2006 and so we’re going to give you an allocation even though there’s not a lot to go around.”

As Willie Nelson once wrote, “Miracles appear in the strangest of places”: you wouldn’t expect to find small-production wines like these in Central Texas but I’m finding more and more that the Texan style and passion for great food and wine brings some of the brightest and the best out to see us.

Above: The pig on the label of Bobby and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s Scarpetta is inspired by their love of Prosciutto di San Daniele. The name “scarpetta” comes from the Italian word for “sopping up leftover sauce from your plate.”

I liked Bobby’s 2007 Pinot Grigio a lot: bright acidity, freshness, and nice fruit, with balanced minerality. A totally clean wine, easy to drink, a great quaffing wine.

But I REALLY DUG the Tocai Friulano: while the Pinot Grigio is aged in stainless steel, the Tocai, Bobby told me, is aged in botti, large old oak casks — totally old school, the way I like it. This wine had the richness and grassy notes that I love in traditional style Tocai and I’m totally geeked that it will be coming to Texas (at under-$20 retail, I was told). I can’t wait for Tracie B to taste it.

Btw, even though the EU prohibits Italians from writing Tocai on the label, I still can’t help myself from calling it Tocai. Surprisingly, the new requirement to call it Friuliano has resulted in an increase in sales, as Franco and I reported earlier this year at VinoWire. (In 2007, in decision in a complaint by Hugarian producers of Tokaj, the EU constitutional court prohibited Italian producers from using Tocai on bottles sold outside Italy.)

I also liked what Bobby had to say about it: “I wanted a wild beast, not a lap dog in a Gucci bag.”

Bobby is part of an expanding group of master sommeliers who are making wines or consulting with winemakers, approaching them from the perspective of the restaurateur rather than the trophy wine seeker.

In other news…

We tasted some great Italian wines last night at my sold-out Italian 101 seminar at The Austin Wine Merchant. Participant Pat Kelly posted this nice review at her blog.

And our new friend Mary Gordon surprised me by showing up after she snagged one of the waiting-list spots.

During the tasting, I realized that I, too, am guilty of using a de facto rating system: I found myself calling a grapy, easy-to-drink Montepulciano d’Abruzzo a “Wednesday night wine,” an elegantly tannic Rosso di Montalcino a “Friday night wine,” and when we tasted a rich, earthy Aglianico, Mary Gordon asked, “what night of the week is this wine?” Another participant chimed in, to the amusement and agreement of all, without skipping a beat: “Definitely a Saturday night wine!”

Next Tuesday’s Tuscany class is already sold-out but there are still some spots available in later sessions. Click here for the full schedule.

Mmmmm… tonight is Wednesday night. I wonder what Tracie B and will drink… ;-)