97 Barolo, mole, and blues pair well in Austin, Texas

From the “damn, I love this town” department…

Our friends Mike and Magaret (whom we know because they come to nearly every wine tasting I lead here in Austin!) wrote the other day saying they had a very special bottle of wine they wanted to share with Tracie P and me: Guido Porro 1997 Barolo Lazzairasco (!!!). We were thrilled, of course…

Regretfully, not many places allow corkage in Texas (in part due to the fact that the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission discourages it, even though it’s not illegal). But working in the wine business has its perks: my friend and colleague Brad Sharp, wine director at one of our favorite restaurants in the world, Fonda San Miguel, allowed us to bring in this bottle, which Mike hand-carried back from Barolo in 2001. (Btw, whenever we BYOB we always buy a commensurate bottle from the list, in this case some López de Heridia, and we tip generously, keeping in mind that the bill is less than it would have been had we ordered a second bottle at dinner. Fyi, Fonda does not allow corkage.)

In Piedmont, summer months are for Barbera, Pelaverga, and other lighter-bodied red wines that pair well with the lighter foods of warm months. In Mexico, however, heavier foods like mole (a chocolate and chile sauce used to dress meats and enchiladas) are served all year. And so in the spirit of transnational culinary fusion, I paired with carne asada tampiqueña and a cheese enchilada dressed with mole sauce. The combination was FANTASTIC!

Like its brother cru Lazzarito, Lazzairasco (just a few hectares) is one of the great vineyards of Serralunga d’Alba, where some of the richest and most austere Barolo is produced by the appellations oldest subsoils (on the east side of the Barolo-Alba road which divides the “natures” of Barolo).

Although it was one of the indisputably great harvests of a remarkable string of excellent years in Piedmont, 1995-2001, 1997 is not one of my favorite vintages: it was the warmest (as was 2000) and while it was highly praised in the U.S. for its ripe fruit, it didn’t have the balance of, say, 1999 or 2001 (my favs).

Porro is one of the great traditionalist producers of Barolo and this wine entirely surprised us with its lip-smacking acidity and its wild berry fruit character. I knew we were going out on an organoleptic limb with this pairing but wow, did it deliver a sensorial treat — an usual pairing that rewarded us for our daring.

And in keeping with the Austin cosmic cowboy spirit, after dinner we headed over to meet other friends at the Gallery at the Continental Club, where Jimmie Vaughan was sitting in with Hammond B3 player Mike Flanigin. The Gallery at the Continental only holds 50 persons and the “guest” musicians are not advertised (you have to be in the know to find out about which super stars might be appearing on any given night).

Jimmie’s riding high these days, with an awesome new album (that we LOVE) and world tour. He’s also a super sweet guy and he took a moment out for me to snap this photo of him and Margaret.

The dude is a living legend. I mean, how many people in world once lent a wah-wah pedal to Jimi Hendrix?

If only they served Nebbiolo at the Continental Club…

Jimmie Vaughan’s 1967 Fender Coronado (how friggin’ cool is that?)

From the “does this town rock or what?” department…

1967 Fender Coronado

Above: Guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan’s 1967 Fender Coronado and Ronnie James’s 1967 Fender Coronado bass. Photo via Hair by Felice.

My friends often hear me say that moving to Austin to be with Tracie P was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. The second smartest thing? Moving to Austin to be with Tracie P.

One of the coolest things about living in this central Texas town is how you can run into a guitar hero at the super market and then see him take the stage that night at Antone’s.

When the super cool lady who cuts my hair showed me the above photo of Jimmie Vaughan’s 1967 Fender Coronado and the matching 1967 Coronado bass that he got his bass player to take on tour with them to support Jimmie’s new album, I BEGGED her to let me put it on my blog (you see, lady in question, Felice, goes steady with Jimmie’s bass player Ronnie James).

And I gotta say, Jimmie’s new album is some pretty, bad-assed smoking music that puts some seriously deep-fried boogie in your butt. So far Tracie P’s favorite track is “Wheel of Fortune,” which features Lou Ann Barton on vox.

We’re going to miss Jimmie’s show next weekend at Antone’s ’cause we’ll be out of town but that’s okay. I know I’ll run into Jimmie at Whole Foods market when we’re back…

If you still had any doubt that Austin is America’s most rockin’ city, check out this photo I snapped yesterday by our favorite hippy-dippy convenience store/gas station.

Buon weekend, ya’ll…

Jimmie Vaughan’s Gulf Coast picking and the best steak frites in Austin

From the “life could be worse” department…

louann barton

Last night found me and Tracie B at Austin’s top music destination, Antone’s, for a Doug Sahm tribute (Doug Sahm is considered by many the father of the Central Texas music scene). We were there to see legendary bluesman Jimmie Vaughan. Since I moved to Austin nearly a year ago, I still hadn’t see him play and it was a thrill to hear his Strat from the edge of the stage (one of the things that’s so cool about Austin is how the venues, even Antone’s, which is one of the largest, are just small enough that you can still hear the music directly from the amps on stage instead of through the PA). But the most amazing thing was that our friend Felice’s boyfriend Ronnie James is Jimmie’s go-to bass player and so Tracie B and I got to go back stage and meet Jimmie. Now, I’m all growed up and have met plenty of famous folks but I can’t conceal that I was downright star-struck to shake Jimmie’s hand last night. I couldn’t resist ask him about his right-hand pick-less picking and hammering technique (he’s flat-picking in the photo above with LouAnn Barton on vocals).

“That’s the Gulf Coast style,” Jimmie told me. It was created by Clarence Gatemouth Brown and was also used by Albert Collins (another native Texan and one of my personal favorite bluesmen), he said.

That’s a detail from a photo of Gatemouth, left: you pick using all your fingers on your right hand while you finger and hammer with your left hand. There is just so much great music in this town and you can hear a blues or country great on nearly any given night. Man, I love that Tracie B for bringing me here! Her cooking ain’t bad either…

In other news, the best steak frites this side of Manhattan…

Above: Steak frites at Chez Nous in Austin.

I’m dying to try the new Relais de Venise Entrecôte in New York (as reviewed by Sam Sifton in The New York Times), but there is no dearth of great red meat in Texas.

In what seems to be becoming a bad habit of mine, I played hookey again Friday after being shanghaied for lunch by my friend John. We headed over to Chez Nous with a collector friend/client of his and opened a few interesting bottles that “needed” to be tasted.

Above: The 1994 Trimbach was tighter than I would have expected but it opened up nicely with a little aeration. The pairing with the duck pâté was sublime.

Chez Nous is everything that you wish it would be: quiet, unassuming, and friendly, with solid bistro cuisine that may not win awards but never disappoints. Owner Jacques always delivers classic staples of French cuisine — the pork rillettes and duck pâté always excellent. (I don’t know where Jacques sources his bread but it’s probably the best I’ve had in Austin.)

Above: Duck liver pâté at Chez Nous — highly recommended.

The Gimonnet premier cru Cuis also paired deliciously with the pâté but then again so did the 2006 Les Palliéres Gigondas (which we tasted in honor of Kermit’s visit to Austin on Monday, since Kermit owns the winery together with the Brunier brothers).

Jimmie Vaughan and 94 Trimbach on the same day? Life would be rough if I didn’t have such a beautiful lady in my life. ;-)

tracie branch