What to pour for Alice Feiring in Austin?

In a remarkable confluence of cosmic events, Comrades Howard and Alice both found themselves in Austin last night: he, to speak at the Austin Film Festival; she, to talk about Natural wine and her new book today at Whole Foods Market (Lamar) and tomorrow at Vino Vino.

When we all met for dinner last night at one of our favorite restaurants in the world, Fonda San Miguel, it was only natural that we would drink López de Heridia. After all, Alice wrote “the book” on the winery.

It may seem facile to pair Mexican cuisine with Spanish wine (for the overly obvious reasons). But the fact of the matter is that the attenuated fruit in the López oxidative style works gloriously well with the intense flavors of great Mexican cooking. The wine paired brilliantly with our mole, for example, where the gentle astringency of the wine played counterpart to the chocolate in the mole.

Tracie P and I are thrilled that Fonda San Miguel wine director Brad Sharp has continued to support these unique wines, even in a world where 99% of his guests ask regularly (and nearly exclusively) for Chard, Cab, Merlot, or Pinot.

After dinner, perhaps inspired by the brio of the evening, Alice insisted that we make a pilgrimage to the chicken coop out back behind Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.

Last night was 100% irony-free at Ginny’s and Sarah and The Tallboys, a country outfit out of Chicago, played a smoking set (imho).

Ginny and daughter Sharon are so sweet to me and Tracie P whenever we visit.

But their wholesome Texas hospitality reached its limits last night when Sharon had to kick out a couple for getting to frisky! Never a dull moment at Ginny’s…

Giacosa 1999 Barbaresco (classic) and a gig tonight

From the department of “somehow, someway, I get to taste funky ass wines like every single day”…

Comrades Howard and Mary Beth came to visit me on Saturday night at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I was “pouring wine on the floor,” as we say in the wine trade.

Comrade Howard graciously and generously shared the above bottle of 1999 (classic) Barbaresco by Bruno Giacosa. (Howard was elected vice president of the Writers Guild of America last week, btw. Mazel tov, comrade!)

Great Barbaresco always inspires equine metaphors in me and this wine, powerful and muscular, asserted a masculine beauty tempered by feminine grace, a young mare whose strength was still countered by its youth.

Earth and stone dominated the fruit as the wine began to reveal its nature but dark and red fruit emerged as the wine spent some time in the glass.

Barbaresco by the hand of Giacosa never fails to invoke equine wonder in those of us lucky to experience the wines and his 1999 vintage continues to thrill me, often rivaling the perhaps more graceful 2001 with a combination of power and to kalon.

Thank you again, comrades! Avanti popolo!

In other news… All work and no play would make me an otherwise dull boy…

My friends at Jaynes Gastropub have asked me to sit in with them at tonight’s battle of the Chef Bands 2011 in San Diego. The charity event supports domestic violence awareness and takes place tonight. The Grapes (our band) go on around 9 p.m. Last night’s rehearsal featured some excellent 2007 Lafarge Bourgogne Passetoutgrain.

Amarcord (I remember): Tonino Guerra honored by WGAW

Above: A still from Fellini’s 1973 Amarcord, screenplay by Tonino Guerra (image via Verdoux).

As if by some seaside romagnolo-infused magical realism, a press release found its way to my inbox this morning. It recounts how one of the greatest screenwriters of all time, Tonino Guerra (below), is to be “fêted” by the Writer’s Guild of America West: “Iconic Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra has been named the recipient of the WGAW’s 2011 Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement, given to an international writer who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of screenwriter.”

    “Tonino Guerra is by any standard one of the great writers of our times. His medium is the screenplay. He has written or co-written more than a hundred films, among them L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, Red Desert, Blow-Up, and Zabriskie Point for Antonioni; Amarcord for Fellini; Nostalghia for Tarkovsky; Landscapes in the Mist for Angelopoulos; and Exquisite Corpses for Rosi. Guerra’s work is the brave and moral thread that runs through the fabric of modernist cinema. He is a breathtaking poet, a generous collaborator, and is possessed of the largest heart. We are fortunate to have him among us and thrilled to honor his astonishing — and astonishingly influential — body of work,” said WGAW Board of Directors member Howard A. Rodman.

Comrade Howard’s list of Guerra’s credits reads like my personal list of all-time favorite movies. IMHO the Antonioni tetralogy L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, and Red Desert is the greatest work of cinematic art ever achieved. Chapeau bas, WGAW!

That’s comrade Howard, above, fêting us at our wedding nearly one year ago today! (Just wait to see where we’ll be spending our anniversary, btw.)

Watch the whole trailer below… you won’t be disappointed… I promise… and I remember…

When this man is not writing screenplays, he’s wine blogging

When our friend Howard isn’t writing screenplays or composing poems to recite at our wedding (glass of Bolly rosé in hand), you can often find him tasting and discussing wine at his (and my) favorite wine bar in LA, where he and I have spent many an eve discussing the epistemological implications in the nuanced semiosis of a bottle of Cascina Francia by Giacomo Conterno (1998 was the last one we opened together).

He’s even been known to wine blog now and then, like this wonderful post he did today for a film promotion (click on the images to read his wine and cinema pairings).

Chapeau bas, comrade Howard! I will raise a glass to you tonight as I quote my favorite passage from Gramsci!

New west coast food and wine blogs for a new year

Breaking news: For all you wedding watchers out there, Tracie B has just posted on our wedding cake! Yes, WEDDING CAKE!


Above: While in Los Angeles in early December, I had lunch at Mozza with my friends Howard Rodman and Lou Amdur. Owner of my favorite natural wine bar, Lou has a wonderful food and wine blog (not so new), where he writes about his wine selection and whatever else makes him culinarily curious. Comrade Howard is my number 1 candidate for “someone who outta have a food and wine blog.”

The oughts are noughts and 2010 has arrived and at least a couple of friends of mine took time during the December wind-down to launch new food and wine blogs.


Above: For desert, Howard, Lou, and I shared olive oil ice cream. Penelope and Javier sat at the table next to us. I had no idea who they were (as I was hoping to run into Mel and Carl, who purportedly dine there and are a much more sexy couple!).

This month saw the launch of a food and wine (and music) blog by my friend Anthony Wilson (click on “blog” in the left-hand nav bar). You see, Anthony’s primary mission in life is not to be one of the greatest jazz guitar players of our time. His true calling is “to seek out — every day — fresh, delicious, typical food, prepared with love by like-minded obsessives, along with real, authentic, natural wine, served whenever possible in non-aristocratic, sometimes downright quirky, environments where it’s possible to roll up one’s sleeves and really get down to the business of eating and drinking.”


Above: While in LA, I also dined at Palate (in Glendale), which, despite the swagger, is my favorite restaurant in the U.S. right now. I really dig their vintage decanters (we decanted a bottle of Domaine de Montille 2006 Pommard Les Rugiens, thank you very much).

I’m also excited about a new blog, Gourmale, authored by my bandmate and air guitar superstar, Dan Crane (aka Jean-Luc Retard, aka Björn Türoque). Dan’s well-earned nickname on the road is “Snackboy Jr.” or “Snack,” and the Nous Non Plus tour bus has often been forced to stop abruptly for “snack attacks.” Enough said… (now, if we could just get Dan to add a blogroll!).


Above: At Palate, chef Octavio Becerra treated us to an amazing roast side of goat.

I’ve also been recently hipped to two very cool wine blogs by Los Angeles-based wine professionals, My Daily Wine by Amy Atwood, now at the top of my Google reader feed for news from the world of natural wine, and Brunellos Have More Fun, by Whitney Adams, whose mostly Italocentric blog I would read if only for the title! And lastly, but by no means least, my new guide to Bay Area restaurants is called Wine Book Girl, by my colleague UC Press publicist Amy Cleary.

In other news…


Above: A collaborative NYE meal, dill and chive roast potatoes (by Tracie B) and pan-roasted, boneless rib-eyes (by me). Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 by Produttori del Barbaresco and Beatles Anthology on DVD. Is this what heaven is like? ;-)

At the last minute, Tracie B and I decided to spend our New Year’s eve at home, alone, just the two of us. :-) We’ll have a lifetime of NYE celebrations ahead of us and so we thought we’d spend this last one, before we get married later this month, by ourselves.

Our bubbly beverage? A champagne of Champagnes (ha!): a bottle of Pierre Gimmonet Cuis 1er Cru Sans Année. We opened it at the beginning of the evening for an apertif and re-corked it. By the end of the night, it had opened up into a wonderful toastiness complemented by fresh white fruit and bright acidity. The perfect wine to pair with my true love’s sweet first kiss of the new year…

Happy 2010, everyone! So far, so good!

Dusk in Montalcino

Above: Sunset on our way to Montalcino last September. My friend and traveling companion Ben Shapiro took this photo as we arrived. Our trip was a Sideways of sorts, except we were desperately searching for Sangiovese, not Pinot Noir.

The dust has settled and Franco and I have finally had time to summarize and translate notes from the Italian Treasury Department’s findings in “Operazione Mixed Wine,” the investigation of the Brunello affair, Brunellogate, or Brunellopoli as it has been called in Italy (after the Tangentopoli or Bribesville scandal of the 1990s).

Franco is on his way to Tuscany now, where he will talk with producers and try to assess their impressions “on the ground,” as we used to say when I worked at the U.N.

An old friend and bandmate of mine, Stuart Mayes, wrote me yesterday, reminiscing about a magnum of 1990 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino that we drank together the night of the OJ Simpson chase in Los Angeles in 1994. My friend Riccardo Marcucci — who did his military service with Giacomo Neri, owner of the winery — had brought the bottle to Los Angeles pre-release. We all sat around my apartment in West Hollywood, glued to the television, sipping the wine. That was long before I knew I would have a life in wine. Giacomo’s winery is one of the 5 found to have “cheated in commercial transactions” by investigators.

I met Giacomo back in 1989 when I first traveled to Montalcino and he had just begun making wine, taking over the reins of his family’s farm’s management from his father. The style of his wines has changed considerably since then and he has been transformed from a farmer’s son who recently completed his mandatory military service (when I met him in 1989) to producer of one of Italy’s most sought-after wines, with top scores and accolades, bottler of wines that command exorbitant prices in the U.S. market. Will the findings of infelicitously named Operazione Mixed Wine have any affect on him or the popularity of his wines? Probably not. And so let it be.

At the recommendation (and thanks to the generosity) of my friend Howard, I’ve been reading the autobiography of Luis Buñuel, My Last Sigh. I came across this passage in the opening pages, describing one of the characters in the town where Buñuel grew up in Spain, Calanda, when the country was still lost in the “Middles Ages,” as the director liked to remember it:

    Don Luis also played a decisive role when the Calanda vineyards were struck with a devastating phylloxera. While the roots shriveled and died, the peasants adamantly refused to pull them out and replace them with American vines, as growers were doing throughout Europe. An agronomist came specially from Teruel and set up a microscope in the town hall so that everyone could examine the parasites, but even this was useless; the peasants still refused to consider any other vines. Finally, Don Luis set the example by tearing out his whole vineyard; as a result, he received a number of death threats, and never went out to inspect his new plants without a rifle. This typical Aragonian collective obstinancy took year to overcome.

What do any of these things have to do with one another? Nothing, really, aside from being overlapping remembrances and experiences in my mind. The Brunello controversy has finally come to an end, thank goodness. The Italian government has confirmed what everyone suspected all along (the truth was in the wine, in vino veritas, but all you had to do was look at its dark color to realize that it wasn’t 100% Sangiovese, which should always be bright and clear, as any producer of 100% Sangiovese will tell you). Frankly, whole thing has left me terribly depressed.

The good news is I am headed to San Diego tomorrow to pour and talk about wine at Jaynes Gastropub — tomorrow and Thursday nights. If you’re in town, please come down to see me and we’ll open some Brunello di Montalcino by one of my favorite producers, Il Poggione, and ci berremo sopra, as they Tuscans say. We’ll have a drink and put it to bed.

Produttori del Barbaresco 89 (and Mafioso)

Every once in a while you come across one of those truly special bottles, like this 1989 classic Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco,* at a price you can afford. I found it the other day in a wine shop in San Antonio (where I’ve been spending a lot of time these days) and although it gently pushed the envelope of my pricepoint ceiling (sorry for the mixed metaphors), I just couldn’t resist.

The 1989 harvest in Langa was one of the greatest in contemporary memory and I’ve had the great fortune to taste a lot of Nebbiolo from both 1989 (a classic, slow-ripening vintage) and 1990 (also a classic, but with slightly warmer temperatures). This gorgeous wine is still very young: the nobility of its tannin and earthy flavors were adorned by delicate notes of berry and red stone fruit, the way Laura’s noble, alpine beauty is dressed by her golden hair and her delicate veil as she sits by the stream in Petrarch’s songs.

Many would fetishize a wine like this but we always open them with food. After all, the people who made them intended them to be consumed with food.

At the urging of our friend Howard, Tracie B had Netflixed Alberto Lattuada’s 1962 social-commentary/thriller/comedy Mafioso, starring one of the all-time greatest Italian actors, Alberto Sordi.

Lattuada doesn’t make it as often into the syllabuses of Italian film studies in the U.S. as does, say, Pietro Germi (with 1960s classics like Sedotta e abbandonata), but he should. His Mafioso is 1960s social-commentary comedy at its best, at once poignant and hilarious, bridging the Messina Straits of the paradox of the country that never was — Italy. Alberto Sordi is a Sicilian who’s moved to the industrial north and has made a life for himself and his beautiful blond alpine wife. Lattuada’s camera follows him has he fulfills his peripeteia in a journey home to visit his family. The backdrop is the “economic miracle” of the 1960s in Italy, where the north flourished while the south continued to languish. I won’t spoil it for you but the final thriller scenes had us on the edge of our seats as we sipped the last drops of that gorgeous wine.

Here’s the great scene where Sordi’s character’s family welcomes him home with a classic Sicilian luncheon. Coppola ain’t got nothing on this baby!

* Many erroneously distinguish the “cru” or single-vineyard bottlings of Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco from the classic Barbaresco (made with fruit sourced from multiple vineyards) using the ignominious qualifier normale. Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco that has been made by blending wines sourced from different vineyards is classic Barbaresco or Barbaresco classico.

Synæsthesia and wine writing (and Valentini 2004 Trebbiano)

Synæsthesia is “the use of metaphors in which terms relating to one kind of sense-impression are used to describe sense-impressions of other kinds; the production of synæsthetic effect in writing or an instance of this” (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).

A famous example of synæsthesia is found in Dante, Inferno 33.9, where Count Ugolino says to Dante and Virgil:

parlare e lagrimar vedrai insieme (you will see me speak and weep together).

(This is also an example of zeugma, one of my favorite figures of rhetoric, if only for the term’s etymology.)

Synæsthesia is inherent to wine writing: when we describe wine, we use “one kind of sense-impression… to describe sense-impressions of other kinds.”

The wine descriptor velvety is a great example of this (Italian Wine Guy published this excellent post, The Allure of Velour, on its usage yesterday).

In our confabulationes, my comrade Howard and I often discuss synæsthesia in wine writing.

The other night he and I (he in the Hollywood Hills, I in Austin) exchanged messages on whether or not to decant a 2004 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. The next day, he sent me the following tasting notes, which he graciously has allowed me to share with you.

    We started with a Lambrusco rosé from Lini, which was subtler and more satisfying that I had expected. What I’d wanted was “amiable,” and it was that, to be sure, but there was also something come-hitherish which made all of us want to refill our glasses until it was gone.

    The Valentini was another story — one with a narrative arc. It was dull, cloudy in the glass, and at first seemed like a seaside breeze, seashells in the sun, but old, distant, as if we were trying to hear a conversation at the other end of a transAtlantic cable. Then it thickened, notes becoming chords, with sweet second-order harmonics, lush feedback. It could have stayed there and we would have been happy. But then, about an hour in, it went all psychedelic on us. Weird aromas, flavor notes, speaking to each of us in individual tongues. For me, it was witch hazel and Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, taking me all the way back to the Brooklyn days when my uncle would walk me to the barbershop — I’d get a haircut, he’d get a shave, as the Men Born Elsewhere chattered in their native languages. The memories came flooding back. Then the Valentini got even stranger, more ethereal — and was gone.

    To go with the cheese (a Manchego with membrillo, and a truly memorable Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery, a washed-rind triple cream, perfectly ripe, perhaps the best domestic cheese I’ve ever had) we opened another of the 1998 G. Conterno Barolos. The bottle we shared at Lou told a story (or many stories). This one never really lost its martial beat. It was stern, perhaps a bit disapproving. The cheese evolved before our eyes, but the wine simply looked on, aristocratic and unengaged. I look forward to seeing what it’s like this evening. It may not have been ready to yield up its pleasures, but time is on my side.

From this moment on, I hereby declare feedback to be a canonical wine descriptor!

Thanks for the tasting notes and photos, Howard.


The 2004 harvest was the penultimate vinified by Edoardo Valentini before his passing in April 2006.

The amazingly talented Mr. Lou on Vine

Above: he has my vote. No, that’s not Lou. That’s my comrade and co-conspirator in tasting Howard Rodman at Lou on Vine, my all-time favorite wine bar in the world — yes, in the whole wide world. Howard was just nominated for a Spirit Award for best screenplay (Savage Grace, 2007). Congratulations, Howard!

My travels are taking me away from Austin and back to California, where I’m going to work some holiday parties with my friends at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego (I’ll be pouring on the floor there on Friday and Saturday nights, btw). During the week, I’ll head to LA to take care of some business and surely stop in to taste at my all-time favorite wine bar, Lou on Vine (at the corner of Melrose and Vine in Hollywood).

Above: Lou Amdur, nez extraordinaire and proprietor of the eponymously named Lou on Vine.

Lou’s menu features farm-to-table materia prima and his extensive by-the-glass list never fails to surprise and thrill me, whether with a biodynamic Pecorino from Abruzzo, a stinky Gamay from Beaujolais (Rachel Ray’s favorite, Lou claims wryly), or a grape that I’d never tasted, like Zierfandler from the Thermenregion.

Before I headed out to Austin a few weeks ago, Lou graciously let Howard and me pull the cork on Howard’s 1998 Cascina Francia by Giacomo Conterno, which showed beautifully. I’ve recently tasted the 97 (at Jaynes courtesy John Greer) and the 99 (courtesy David Schacter): while the 99 was still way too tight and the 97 began to open up nicely only after extended aeration, the 98 was simply singing in my opinion.


got a pocket full of nickles
a pocket full of dimes
going back to Watts
drink a little wine
come on
baby don’t you want to go
going back to LA
sweetest place I know

— Johnny Otis Show