LOVING the list at Fonda San Miguel…

The list at one of me and Tracie P’s FAVORITE restaurants in the world, Fonda San Miguel (Austin), is OFF THE CHARTS ROCKING right now. Earlier this week, a close friend treated us to dinner and a bottle of the 2000 Gravonia white by López de Heredia. Man, that wine is INSANE right now. Wonderful fruit, great acidity, and the oxidative note that takes those wines over the top. Great pairing with the queso and the sopecitos.

Next we paired the 09 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo with our entrées. I had the carne asada tampiqueña… A match made in heaven (I wrote about it today over at the Houston Press for my “Odd Pair” rubric).

Produttori’s 09 Langhe Nebbiolo is one of the more light-bodied vintages in recent years and its bright fruit and acidity were fantastic with the dish and stood up beautifully to its intense flavors and spiciness. Seriously, one of the best meals of the year so far…

How cool is that? The best Mexican restaurant in the U.S. and they have Produttori del Barbaresco on their list! Love it…

Buon weekend yall…

Naughty with Alice Feiring in Austin

A schlub from Southern California had the very distinct pleasure and honor of escorting two very fine ladies out on the town in Austin, Texas last night.

After a quick stop at Vino Vino (where Alice will be speaking tomorrow night at a dinner in her honor, featuring unsulfured Spanish wines imported by José Pastor), we just had to head over to another one of me and Tracie P’s favorite restaurants, Fonda San Miguel, for some 1998 Tondonia Rosada by López de Heredia (hell yeah!). After all, didn’t Alice write the book on this winery and the wines that have meant so much to so many of us no matter where we eat, love, and pray?

Guacamole, queso fundido, corn tortilla chips fried in vegetable shortening, and huitlacoche tamales made for superb pairings…

Next came an intermezzo at an excellent Kentucky Bourbon and Virginia Ham party hosted by Boots in the Oven in the home of Erin and Nat (Alice didn’t eat any ham, for the record, in case you were wondering).

And what first visit to the Groover’s Paradise would be complete without some two-stepping at the Broken Spoke and honkytonking at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon?

Didn’t I read once in the New York Times that Austin is the type of town where “everyone gets home safe”?

Happily somehow, the schlub managed to ferry his precious wards back to tranquility and a roof over their heads.

We’re heading out early this morning for some Texas Hill Country wine tastings…

The new vintages of López de Heredia have arrived in the Groovers Paradise!

Making the rounds of yesterday’s trade tastings in the Groover’s Paradise (aka Austin, Texas), I was extremely fortunate to get to taste the current releases from one of our favorite wineries in the world, López de Heredia, Viña Gravonia blanco and Viña Tondonia rosado 2000. Ten-year-old white and rosé wines. I was impressed by how bright the fruit is in these bottlings, unusual (to tell the truth) for this house, where savory and salty notes always seem to dominate. Can’t wait to crack these with Tracie P, ideally over some ceviche and tacos al pastor at Fonda San Miguel.

It was great to catch up with everyone after being away for so long, like wine professionals April Collins, Jeff Courington, and Lolly Thompson.

Wine broker extraordinaire Susana Partida was rocking the Bastianich.

When I see these two dudes, Craig Collins and Mark Sayre, I always “smile like a fool,” as my friend Thompson likes to say.

Rob was in fine Forman: SO MANY killer Italian wines in his book (Inama, Marchesi di Gresy, Selvapiana, Tenuta Sant’Antonio) from Dalla Terra.

This Valpolicella from Degani is a welcomed new arrival in my Groover’s Paradise. It was fresh and bright, juicy and delicious, the way I like it. And it should weigh in well under $20 retail according to importer Enotec.

How does the song go, Flaco?

the guacamole queen is there
oh Lawd she’ll really curl your hair.
enchiladas and BBQ
oh baby whatch gonna do
come over here beside me
tell me baby how you been
I get through laying it on you
well you know that I’m back again

Groover’s Paradise
Groover’s Paradise
Groover’s Paradise

It’s good to be back…

98 López de Heredia rosé and a gordita at Fonda San Miguel, anyone?

fonda san miguel

As much as Tracie P and I LOVE Austin’s Fonda San Miguel (a restaurant considered by many, and rightly so, one of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S.), it would be untrue for me to say that we are fans of its wine list (dominated by new world Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay). But when we cozied up at the bar the other night for one of our favorite guilty-pleasure dinners, we were thrilled to find the 1999 López de Heredia Viña Gravonia (white) on the by-the-glass list and the 1998 Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva by the bottle. That gordita paired brilliantly with the acidity and fruit in this gently oxidative wine.

fonda san miguel

I couldn’t resist posting this photo Tracie P snapped that night. You can see the beautiful stained glass in the ceiling reflecting in the wine.

And on the subject of the 1998 Rosado, you can also find it by the bottle at a happy-hour price (too obscene to report here!) over on Josh Loving’s list at Fino, from 5-7 p.m. My advice? Run don’t walk…

In other Spanish-speaking news…


Tracie P and I attended a fascinating lecture and presentation by our friend George O. Jackson Jr. at the University of Texas Ransom Center the other night.

George O. (as he is known) has been traveling in and photographing folk culture in Guerrero, Mexico for 20 years. These images are from the jaguar dances and competitions performed by Indian tribes there as an offering to G-d.


The pain the participants endure in the dances, George O. explained, is one of the ways they offer sacrifice to their vision of the Judeo-Christian G-d in return for their bountiful rain.

His photos are not yet entirely available for viewing online, but you can see some of them here, from a previous exhibition. Truly fascinating stuff and simply thrilling images…

Happy Friday, ya’ll… I sure am ready to get my weekend on!

Amphora-aged Primitivo, pozoles and old Rioja, and a Texas wine I liked

Above: This week, Tracie B and I attended our first holiday party of the year at the home of Texas “natural treasure,” author, radio personality, blogger and all-around delightful host, Mary Gordon Spence.

Man, has it been a crazy week — between work, Tignanello triage, the new Amarone DOCG, and the holidays upon us!

Above: Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely eat sweets. But homemade flan? Mary Gordon found my weakness!

Tracie B and I are headed to La Jolla for the weekend, a good thing since snow is expected today in Central Texas!

I’m working on my “interesting wines coming out of Tuscany these days” post and I received a lot of great recommendations from a bunch of Italian wine professionals and bloggers. Thank you, all. I’ll post them next week.

Above: George O brought this bottle of what I’m guessing is a dried-grape red wine from the Texas Hill Country made by Tony Coturri at the La Cruz de Comal winery. It was a great pairing for the flan.

If you haven’t seen it already, please check out this wonderful post authored by Franco (and translated by yours truly) on the amphora wines made by Vittorio Pichierri in Sava (Manduria, Apulia). Amphora wine is all the rage these days. Gravner started making wine in amphora in the late 1990s? Pichierri has been aging his wines in interred amphora since the 1970s and beyond (he uses an ancient format called capasone).

Above: We were joined by the inimitable Bill Head, whose tall Texas tales alone are worth the price of admission (seated next to Tracie B), his lovely SO Patricia, and George O. Jackson (right), photographer and author of a photo collection I am dying to see, Essence of Mexico 1990-2002, images of folklore he captured traveling through rural Mexico.

Dinner at Mary Gordon’s was just the excuse I’d been waiting for to open some older López de Heredia that a client gave me. The 1990 Tondonia white was stunning, as was the 1991 Bosconia. We opened both bottles as we sat in Mary Gordon’s living room and munched on jícama and chips and salsa: I couldn’t help but think about how great these oxidative wines are with food. The 2000 Bosconia Reserva was great with Mary Gordon’s excellent pozoles.

The conversation turned from tales of larger-than-life Charlie Wilson from Bill’s years in Washington to Mary Gordon’s memories of working for President Lyndon B. Johnson, to George O’s adventures in rural Mexico. I spent the whole evening on the edge of my seat. Maybe it’s because I live here now but it always impresses me how Texas often finds itself at the center of the American collective consciousness and American iconography.

Thanks again, Mary Gordon, for such a wonderful evening! And happy holidays to all ya’ll!

Antonio knows that pleasure is the child of pain

From the “run don’t walk department”…

Last night, after leading an Italian wine tasting in Houston, I finally got the chance to sit down with cousins Marty and Joanne for a proper dinner at Catalan, where — and I’ll just cut to the chase since I need to get my butt on a plane in a few hours — wine director Antonio Gianola’s list just blew me away. Joly by the glass? Erbaluce, Vin Jaune from the Jura, Edi Simčič Pinot Grigio, López de Heredia, Nikolaihof, 1989 Domaine des Baumard????!!! There were just so many great wines that I wanted to taste… and that was just in the chapters devoted to white wine! Antonio’s list is precise and informed, informative and fun, easy to navigate for the neophyte and thrilling to leaf through for the connoisseur. There is a threshold where a wine list becomes a thrill of its own and a form of profound dilectio for wine lovers (remember this piece by Eric?). Antonio’s list passes through that threshold with ethereal and seamless celerity. And the best part? His prices are among the most if not the most aggressive I’ve seen anywhere in the U.S. Click through to the restaurant’s website to read his list (which Antonio seems to update like clockwork). And check out this profile of importer Neal Rosenthal by Houston Chronicle wine writer Dale Roberston where Antonio is featured (and where I lifted the photo).

De vinographia: Perhaps the greatest wine writers of all are the authors of great wine lists.

Antonio loves the desert, Antonio prays for rain…

Tracie B and I are on our way to New Jersey for the wedding of one of my best and dearest friends in the world (and the drummer in Nous Non Plus). Stay tuned… I heard something about some Vajra being poured tomorrow night and some Beatles songs… mmmmmm…


“Antonio’s Song”

—Michael Franks

Antonio lives life’s frevo
Antonio prays for truth
Antonio says our friendship
Is a hundred-proof
The vulture that circles Rio
Hangs in this L.A. sky
The blankets they give the Indians
Only make them die
But sing the Song
Forgotten for so long
And let the Music flow
Like Light into the Rainbow
We know the Dance, we have
We still have the chance
To break these chains and flow
Like Light into the Rainbow
Antonio loves the desert
Antonio prays for rain
Antonio knows that Pleasure
Is the child of Pain
And lost in La Califusa
When most of my hope was gone
Antonio’s samba led me
To the Amazon
We sing the Song
Forgotten for so long
And let the music flow
Like Light into the Rainbow
We know the Dance, we have
We still have the chance
To break these chains and flow
Like Light into the Rainbow.

The “intense delicacy” of the last of the Mohicans in Texas


Tasting through the current releases of López de Heredia the other day in Austin made me feel like Big Joe Turner’s Mississippi bullfrog in “Flip, Flop, and Fly”: I’m like a Mississippi bullfrog sittin’ on a hollow stump/I got so many good bottles of wine, I don’t know which way to jump.

I was thrilled to see that the wines have returned to Texas, in the hands of a smaller distributor who seems to be treating the bottlings with the respect and care they deserve.

My friend Alice Feiring put it best when she wrote about the “intense delicacy” of these wines, using a Petrarchesque oxymoron. They are at once intensely aromatic and flavorful but show that unbearable lightness that I find so alluring in great wine.

Some of the most inspired prose in Alice’s The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization is devoted to the López de Heredia winery. But it was owner Maria José López de Heredia who called the winery the “last of the Mohicans”:

    When López de Heredia buckles — if ever — that style of wine is gone and cannot be replaced. I asked Maria José, “Are you sad about the way things are going right now?” Her answer shocked me. “Wine has been worse in Rioja. It’s not so bad now. There are good wines being made, but we are ‘the last of the Mohicans,'” she said, with tremendous pride. She actually liked being the last one.

I love the wines of López de Heredia and try to taste and enjoy them at any chance I get.

The 1989 Tondonia white was showing beautifully, even if it inspired a lively debate among the wine professionals gathered that day as to whether it was “off” or not. (“The release of a López de Herdia white,” writes Alice, “is always a love-it-or-hate-it affair. No matter what a drinker’s preferences, the wine always gets attention.”) I’ve tasted that wine maybe 10 times over the last year and I think that the bottle we tasted was right on.

I was also really impressed with the entry-level 2003 Cubillo (red), which showed uncommon grace for this wine. The 1991 Tondonia and Bosconia (reds) were simply stunning.

The wines won’t be an easy sell here in Texas (nor are they anywhere, for that matter). Their oxidative nature can be a turn-off for a lot of folks. But I’m so glad that they’ve returned to Texas. Tracie B and I will be drinking them for sure!

In other news…

Austin wine writer Wes Marshall reviewed Kermit’s CD today and previewed his listening party Monday November 9 here in town at Vino Vino (yours truly will be presenting Kermit and his producer Ricky Fataar). I haven’t been playing music professionally since Nous Non Plus’s last show in LA in May: I’ve been having a blast promoting this show and I love that feeling of filling a room. I hear there are just a few seats left! ;-)

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…

Not everything coming up rosés in Montalcino

Above: I had fun pouring this flight of rosé, including the 1998 López de Heridia Viña Tondonia Rosado Reserva last night at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego. I’ll be there on the floor (pouring not lying!) again tonight. Please come down to say hello if you’re in town (Comicon conventioneers receive a 10% discount for having monopolized all rental cars within a 100-mile radius! Just mention this ad…).

Franco and I have published an excerpted translation of a letter to Brunello association members from the body’s director today at VinoWire. For the first time — nearly 16 months after the Brunello investigation was first reported — the association director has begun to address the issue, not publicly, but internally… Click here to read… It just blows my mind that the association has waited so long to respond to accusations but I’m glad the truth — or at least some of it — is beginning to emerge. All I can say is, in vino veritas, the truth is in the wine.

For a reaction on this side of that misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean, read Alfonso’s moving post here.


From “Roses” by Outkast

I know you’d like to think your shit don’t stink
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like boo-boo
Yeah, roses really smell like boo-boo

I know you’d like to think your shit don’t stink
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like boo-boo
Yeah, roses really smell like boo-boo

Breaking (good) news: Antinori’s 03 Brunello released by Italian authorities

It’s not entirely clear what went on “behind the scenes” but Marchesi Antinori has become the first Brunello producer — of the 5 officially known to be suspected of adulteration — to announce that its 2003 Brunello will be available for sale as early as next week. Read the whole story at VinoWire.

Although the question of when Brunello producers will be given “guarantee” letters by the Italian government remains unclear (nor is it clear which arm of the government will issue said letter, now required by the U.S. government for Brunello imports), the news of Antinori’s green light seems to be a very positive step in the right direction.

I, for one, am very relieved to see that the Brunello controversy is beginning to subside and I look forward to drinking 03 Brunello by all of my favorite producers.

In other news…

Above: Grilled Mahi Mahi tacos and 1989 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia at my favorite taco shack, Bahia Don Bravo, in Bird Rock (La Jolla), CA. Click on image for centerfold.

I finally convinced my favorite taco shack to let me bring my own wine: last night Irwin and I opened 1989 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia (white) with our grilled Mahi Mahi tacos. Irwin was really blown away by the Lopez de Heredia, noting that “there’s nothing about this wine that I don’t like.” It was showing very well, with nice acidity, nuanced fruit, and judicious alcohol — perfectly balanced.

Bahia was packed last night and we were lucky to find a table for two. Irwin really dug the Viña Tondonia, saying that it was “the best white wine I’ve ever had.” I have to say that it is one of my all-time best white wines, too.

We also drank a 2003 Vignalta Gemola, a Bordeaux-style blend made in the Euganean Hills outside Padua, where Petrarch spent the last years of his life compiling and editing his life’s work. It didn’t show as well as other bottles I’ve opened.

Bahia Don Bravo
5504 La Jolla Blvd
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-8940