Vega-Sicilia Unico 1960 (magnum) for Alice Feiring

Many wonderful bottles were opened last night in the home of our good friends Patricia Winston and Bill Head to celebrate Alice Feiring’s first visit to Texas.

But it was Alfonso who gave her the BIGGEST Texas welcome with an unforgettable bottle of 1960 Vega-Sicilia Unico in magnum (!) and original wooden case. I was blown away by how savory and rich the wine was, vibrant and with an acidity that I frankly wouldn’t have expected in a wine this old. A truly amazing — in so many ways — bottle of wine.

Patricia and Bill had assembled a who’s who of Austin-based winemakers, collectors, and wine professionals for the occasion. But it was Devon Broglie (right, with me, center, and Alfonso, left) who stepped up to the plate to extract the cork. Nice work, Devon!

Even Alice looks TALLER in TEXAS! That’s our good friend, journalist, author, and radio personality Mary Gordon Spence (right).

What a great night, great wines, and great folks…

There might just be a few spots left for a dinner to be held in Alice’s honor tonight in Austin at Vino Vino. In her words, the wines we’ll be tasting are “hard-core natural.”

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!

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… ;-)

Do Bianchi live at Austin360.com today

Above: Sunday evening found me and Tracie B tattered by the rain and mud at the Austin City Limits musical festival but warm and happy at the dinner table of the inimitable Bill Head — Austinite bon vivant and all-around good fellow. Bill made a wonderful ragù alla bolognese and so I brought along a bottle of Lini Lambrusco (in this case, Lambrusco di Sorbara). As restaurateur Danny Meyer likes to say, “if it grows with it, it goes with it.”

If you happen to find yourself near a computer this afternoon at 3 p.m. (Texas time), please check out a live chat that I will be doing today with Austin American-Statesman social columnist Michael Barnes at Out and About (Austin360.com).

Above: We were also joined Sunday night by Austin natural treasure Mary Gordon Spence (to Bill’s left), writer, humorist, and radio personality, who had many wonderful tales to tell of her recent trip to Italy, and University of Texas professor of government David Edwards.

We’ll be chatting about the series of classes on Italian wine I’m teaching every Tuesday at The Austin Wine Merchant beginning this evening.

Tonight’s class is sold out and the others are filling up quickly but there is still some space available. My favorite session is Italian Wine and Civilization (Tuesday, November 10), where we read a passage from Italian literature or history, and then taste a wine in some way pertinent to the text. Did you know that Niccolò Machiavelli was a winemaker, for example?

In other news…

Tracie B and I braved the rain and mud at this year’s Austin City Limits festival on Sunday. We didn’t stay long but did get to catch the B52s’s set, which couldn’t be anything other than super fun, and we also enjoyed super-shiny sisters-and-brother bluegrass/country act Jypsi (below). Jypsi was a little slick for my taste but man can they play!

Just over a year ago, I came to Austin for the second time to visit with Tracie B. Do you remember? Here’s a little post from the archive. We recreated the Austin City Limits photo op this year, except for this time sans mustache! ;-)