Peepaw drinks some orange wine (in Orange, Texas)


Above: Tracie B’s peepaw (grandfather) turned 90 this month. He and meemaw still live in Orange, Texas where Tracie B grew up. He tasted Movia’s Lunar with us over the Christmas holiday — orange wine in Orange, Texas on the Lousiana border!

This morning, when I read McDuff’s fantastic post about drinking Lunar under a full moon on New Year’s eve and his excellent treatment of the importance of the cycle of the moon in the discourse of natural and biodynamic winemaking, I couldn’t help but remember that we opened a bottle of the same wine, the 2005 Lunar by Movia, with Tracie B’s family in Orange, Texas over the Christmas holiday.


Above: Tracie B and I shared our bottle of Lunar with the B family as Tracie B was preparing her dumplings for the chicken and dumplings we ate the night after Christmas day.

I highly recommend McDuff’s post to you. And while not everyone is as crazy about Movia’s Lunar as McDuff and I are, it’s worth tasting: whether you enjoy it or not, it pushes the envelope of natural winemaking in unusual and perhaps unexpected directions. I, for one, enjoy it immensely and prefer not to decant it (although winemaker Aleš Kristančič recommends decanting). Peepaw and meemaw both seemed to enjoy it…

In other news…


Above: Tracie B and I agreed that we would have been better off going to see the new Chipmunks movie instead of the lame excuse for a movie otherwise known as Nine.

I’m going to break my rule of never speaking about things I don’t like here and tell you that the new movie Nine (a musical about the life of Federico Fellini) is a travesty, a lame excuse for a movie, and is wholly offensive to the grand tradition of Italian cinema and one of its greatest maestri, indeed one of the greatest filmmakers and artists of the twentieth century, Federico Fellini.

Here are some of the more awful lines from the movie, sung by Kate Hudson (fyi, Guido Contini is the name of the Fellini character played by Daniel Day-Lewis).

    I love the black and white
    I love the play of light
    The way Contini puts his image through a prism
    I feel my body chill
    gives me a special thrill
    each time I see that Guido neo-realism

It makes me wanna HEAVE. The folks who wrote and made this movie should be ashamed of themselves and should be barred from the movie industry entirely: there is no book to speak of, the songs and lyrics were seemingly written as a high-school drama class project, and the premise (Contini’s inescapable and pseudo-Italianate womanizing as an aesthetic disease) is entirely offensive to the Italian nation and its grand historic artistic sensibility — whether figurative or literary.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have found more aesthetic reward and intellectual enjoyment if we had gone to see the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, which was screening in the theater next to ours.

You can take foxes outta the country but…

From the “just for fun” department…

Johnny OtisLife’s been a little stressful lately and there’s so much negativity going around right now in the world of wine that I thought it was time for some “just for fun.”

It had been a while since Tracie B and me popped any Movia. So Sunday night, we invited our friend and fellow natural wine freak Josh Loving over for Tracie B’s famous fried chicken and mashed potatoes and a bottle of Puro, which Josh — the consummate wine professional — ably disgorged (check out the video I shot below).

Dinner was served accompanied by one of my favorite records: Cold Shot! by the Johnny Otis Show. I love every track on that disk and “The Signifyin’ Monkey” is probably the most famous. But my favorite favorite track is “Country Girl.” Toward the end of the song, Johnny Otis doubles the following aphoristic chiasmus with his guitar: You can take foxes outta the country, but you can’t get the country outta foxes. It’s one of the mysteries of life but that line just kills me every time. Check it out, as Josh disgorges the wine:

You’ve probably seen Puro disgorged at Do Bianchi before but in case you haven’t, it’s really easy to do (as in the vid above). Winemaker Aleš Kristančič makes the wine using the méthode champenoise but he leaves the lees and sediment in the wine (i.e., he doesn’t disgorge before release). You store the wine upside down in your fridge (using a cardboard cylinder that comes with the wine) and then you disgorge it upside down in a basin of water. The wine will be totally clear (as in the photo below).

Although Bollinger remains the indisputable official wine of my band Nous Non Plus, we have been known to disgorge a bottle of Puro… or two.

Life could be worse…

In other news…

Today, “the absolutely fabulous Alice Feiring,” as Tracie B likes to call her, is up to bat at 31 Days of Natural Wine. Alice is a dear friend, a great lady, a mentor, and one of the few things — besides Katz’s pastrami and Barney Greengrass whitefish salad — that we miss about New York City. I love the wine she talks about and I can confirm what Cory writes in his intro, that “very Alice Feiring” has become a canonical wine descriptor. How cool is that?

Day 2 of 31 Days of Natural Wine: nothing natural about it

This post is the second installment of Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine. Click the link below for more…

“Natural wine” is something of a misnomer. Wine is, after all, an act of humankind.

It’s true that wine occurs naturally. Aleš Kristančič of Movia once explained to me how when a grape falls from the vine, it is a natural winemaking vessel: the hole at the top of the berry (where the stem has broken away) is a natural valve that allows yeast on the skin to enter the berry and begin turning the sugar into alcohol.

Wine was a gift from the gods (think Bacchus), or a gift of G-d (think Noah), or an accident (think mother Natura), depending on how you look at it: the magic of grape juice being turned into wine was probably discovered by someone who forgot some grapes in an amphora, only to open the vessel later and find that they had been turned into wine (the original carbonic maceration). But the moment that someone employed this stumbled-upon technology (tehnê, meaning art or craft) a second time, it became an act of humankind…

Click here to read more…

In other news…

Dany the Red is now Dany the Green. Remember this post from East Germany back in September 2008? That’s me stage left, above, rocking out with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was in the news today and whose “Europe Écologie coalition of European Green parties came in third in French voting for the [European] Parliament, winning 16.28 percent of the vote. It was just behind the squabbling Socialists, who had only 16.48 percent, and ahead of a presumptive presidential candidate, François Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement, or Modem.” Check out this article in the Times. I love how the girl in the photo above is wearing a bright red outfit.

By now you should know the identity of the mystery girl to whom I threw the kiss!

It’s sgroppino time (I wish it were)

Man, it’s been a long week… and it’s only Thursday. I’m on the road again today and am looking forward to some relaxing (and gastronomic-literary pursuits) this weekend. I sure wish it were sgroppino time!

A sgroppino is made from sherbet (usually lemon) and Prosecco (and sometimes a shot of vodka). It is served at the end of the meal to aid in digestion. The word itself, from the Italian groppo or knot (akin to the English crop; see below), means “a little helper in pushing out a knot in the — ahem — digestion.”

A sgroppino was mandatory after our horse meat dinner (left) last April in Legnaro (Padua, Veneto).

And a sgroppino (below) really hit the spot after dinner at the osteria of the famous restaurant and inn on the Slovenian border La Subida (Cormons, Friuli), also last April after NN+ played at Movia.

Be sure to check out the Miller Time commercial below. That’s just about how I feel right now!

From the Oxford English Dictionary Online Edition:

[OE. crop(p = OLG. *crop(p, MDu. crop(p, MLG., LG. and Du. krop, OHG. chropf, MHG., Ger. kropf, ‘swelling in the neck, wen, craw of a bird’, in ON. kroppr hump or bunch on the body, Sw. kropp the body, Da. krop swelling under the throat. These various applications indicate a primitive sense of ‘swollen protuberance or excrescence, bunch’. The word has passed from German into Romanic as F. croupe, and It. groppo, F. groupe: see CROUP, GROUP. OE. had only sense 1, ‘craw of a bird’, and 3, ‘rounded head or top of a herb’; the latter is found also in High German dialects (Grimm, Kropf 4c); the further developments of ‘head or top’ generally, and of ‘produce of the field, etc.’, appear to be exclusively English. The senses under IV are new formations from the verb, and might be treated as a distinct word.]

I. A round protuberance or swelling, the craw.

1. a. A pouch-like enlargement of the {oe}sophagus or gullet in many birds, in which the food undergoes a partial preparation for digestion before passing on to the true stomach; the craw.

2. transf. and fig. The stomach or maw; also the throat. Now Sc. and dial. Cf. GIZZARD.

If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the sgroppino:

Wine & Spirits Top 100 San Francisco (and a handsome tie)

Leaving San Francisco today, heading back down south… Here’s a quick post from last night’s Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 tasting at the historic Mint building in San Francisco. Man, San Francisco, what a town!

Above, from left: Jeffrey Meisel of Domaine Select, me, Josh Greene editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits, and winemaker Aleš Kristančič of Movia. Franco’s daughter Valentina gave me that handsome tie after I helped her with some translating earlier this year.

Vesna Kristančič of Movia and Alder Yarrow, author of top wine blog Vinography.

Jon Erickson and Jayne Battle owners of Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego with Aleš. (I’ll post later this week on the dinner Jayne, Jon, and I had with Ceri Smith of Biondivino and winemaker Cinzia Merli of Le Macchiole the night before at A16.)

Among the other great wines I tasted, I really enjoyed Chablis producer Domaine Laroche. The winery has begun bottling the majority of its wines with screw caps and I’ll post later this week on what owner Gwenael Laroche had to say about the cork vs. screw cap debate.

Stay tuned…

Q&A: Disgorging Movia Puro

This morning, one of my favorite wine bloggers, Brooklynguy, stopped by Do Bianchi and inquired about Movia’s Puro (yesterday, I posted a photo of Jon Erickson of Jaynes Gastropub disgorging a bottle of the traditional method sparkling wine).

The unusual thing about this wine is that Aleš Kristančič of Movia does not disgorge the wine before release. If handled properly, the wine is stored upside down so that the sediment settles in the neck of the bottle. In order to disgorge it, you place the bottle upside down in a vessel filled with water (ideally a clear punch bowl or similar), you hold the cork in one hand as you gently twist the bottle with the other, and when the sediment is released into the water, you turn the bottle right side up. As long as the sediment has settled entirely in the neck before disgorging, the wine will be clear (not cloudy).

Earlier this year, I found this YouTube video of an Italian sommelier disgorging a bottle (note that he has another bottle positioned upside down in a black cardboard tube that Movia now ships with the wine):

It looks like it’s hard to do and the first time you do it, your instinct is that the bottle is going to “backfire” toward you. But it’s actually really easy and while Nous Non Plus was staying at Movia in April, Aleš had each of us disgorge a bottle (even the girls and the drummer). I know that at least one NYC retailer of Italian wines sends out erroneous instructions about disgorging the wine: despite what the so-called “Italian wine experts” claim, you DO NOT NEED TO FREEZE THE SEDIMENT IN THE NECK of the bottle. You simply need to store the bottle upside down at your preferred serving temperature (I like my Puro at “cellar” temperature, not overly chilled).

He makes it look easy (and it is): Jean-Luc Retard (vox, bass) aka Dan Crane aka Björn Türoque disgorges a bottle of Movia Puro Rosé during a break from our recording session in May. We didn’t have a punch bowl so we used the sink in the studio’s kitchen. Björn is a veteran Air Guitar champ: check out his website.

Slovenia Day 2: forbidden mussels, winemaker not required

The name and location of the tavern where Nous Non Plus ate dinner on April 9, 2008 cannot be revealed: suffice it to say that the band’s metallic-gray van somehow found its way to a small village in the hills of Brda.

On the menu that night: a tide of scampi (Nephrops norvegicus, Norwegian lobster, adored by Céline Dijon aka Verena Wiesendanger, left) and forbidden date mussels (Lithophaga lithophaga, a long and narrow rock-boring mussel that uses an acidic secretion to chisel its way into the reefs of the northern Adriatic). The fishing of date mussels, I’m sorry to say, has been prohibited in Europe since 1992 because the reef has to be broken in order to extract the mollusk (in Italy, the sale of date mussels was outlawed in 1998). But in Slovenia (an EU country, btw), it seems delicacy trumps delinquency (I’ve heard that they’re easy to find in Apulia and other parts of Adriatic Italy as well).

Above: the delicious date mussels were cooked in white wine and garlic. They didn’t serve Aleš’ wine but the house Ribolla (Rebula) made for an excellent pairing.

Above: The scampi seemed to dance on this mixed seafood platter. Céline goes crazy for scampi. I’ve never seen her eat so much!

Earlier in the day (and frankly, the day didn’t start so early since we had stayed up all night long playing Beatles songs camp-fire style after NNP played two sets at the winery), Aleš had fulfilled his promise to explain the secret behind Movia’s Lunar, a wine he makes — as I discovered — from the free-run juice of unpressed, whole bunches of Ribolla using a unique system for carbonic maceration. He calls it Lunar because he follows the cycle of the moon for its production.

“Before man made a job for himself as a winemaker,” said Aleš, “the grape made the wine itself.” The grape berry “has a natural valve at its top,” he explained. When a grape drops to the ground, the naturally occurring yeasts on its skin migrate into the pulp and begin to ferment its juice. The valve at the top of the berry, “lets the carbon dioxide out without letting any oxygen in.”

So, when Aleš decided he wanted to make a wine with no intervention whatsoever, he used the grape as a model: he designed a barrel with a hole proportionate to the size of the aperture at the top of a grape berry. To plug the hole, he created a spring-loaded cap that releases the CO2 when pressure builds within the vessel without allowing any oxygen to enter. In essence, he built a large grape berry. He fills the “berry” with whole bunches of grapes and then seals it and lets nature do her work.

Above: Aleš always decants Lunar because it is unfiltered and contains a great deal of sediment.

He then concocted an elaborate system of tubes that allow him to draw off the wine without letting it come into contact with oxygen. But he also had to calculate “where” the wine would be in the barrel, since some of the solids fall to the bottom during fermentation while the skins float to the top. In a diagram he showed me, the “layer” of wine lies somewhere in the middle of the vessel. The wine is siphoned off into a larger stainless steel vessel from which he can then bottle the unfiltered wine.

Lunar isn’t cheap but it is one of those life-changing wines. When you taste it for the first time, you immediately experience its purity and integrity (and by integrity, I mean the etymological sense of the word, its wholeness, its untouchedness, from the Latin in- + tangere, to touch). Later in the trip, Aleš dubbed NNP the first “bio-dynamic” band: it was great to see my bandmates get turned on and tuned in to natural wine.

Required reading…

There’s a great article about Slovenian wine and Movia in the current issue of Fine Wine by
Bruce Schoenfeld
. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can download a PDF’d version.)

I’ve become a fan of Bruce’ writing. I recently came across this passage in a piece he wrote in praise of a Patagonian Pinot Noir (which, he pointed out, doesn’t try to imitate Burgundy):

“I’m not sure why, but I hold Pinot Noir to a higher standard than I do other grapes. I come across far too many Pinots made in slavish imitation of Burgundy. These wines aren’t bad, just uninteresting. I mean, I love the Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,’ but I don’t ever need to hear Elton John sing his version again.”

I couldn’t agree more: I love Elton John but his version of LSD just doesn’t do it for me nearly the same way the Beatles’ does.

Slovenia Day 1: Movia (my barrique epiphany)

Just added…

Taste and chat at Jaynes: Thursday I’ll be pouring wine all night at Jaynes Gastropub in University Hts. (San Diego). Please stop by. Hopefully Chef Daniel will be serving his Alaskan halibut special…

Above: Aleš Kristančič draws off a barrel sample of his 2005 Pinot Noir. Note the size of the barrels. Aleš ages his wine exclusively in barrique.

My once immovable feelings about barrique (small, new oak barrels — French or Slavonian — used for aging wine) began to change last year when I read this article by Eric Asimov. With Socratic nuance, Eric pointed out that “Oaky may be bad, but oak is good.” Later that month, in response to a post I did on Luigi Veronelli and Italy’s historic relationship to new oak aging of wine, Eric authored a post in which he cast the use of barrique in judicious perspective. (If the wine blogosphere were a Renaissance court, Eric would be its wise and just prince: he brings an even-handed tone to a world prone to rants and extreme points of view. He was recently nominated for the Veronelli Prize for “best food and wine writing in a foreign language.”)

When my band Nous Non Plus arrived at the Movia winery in Brda, Slovenia on Monday, April 7, 2008, where we played a private party that evening, I had an epiphany of sorts: I discovered — to my surprise — that my friend Aleš Kristančič, whose wines I love and have enjoyed on many occasions, ages all of his wines in barrique.

Frankly, I was blown away. My friend and collaborator Franco Ziliani (known for his tell-like-it-is style) often points out that rules are rules: I have to confess that I had never detected oakyness in Aleš’ wines and Aleš gave me a proper schooling in situ as to how new oak can be used with the context of radically natural and undeniably biodynamic wines like his own. Ignoscetis mihi: as Franco says, if you taste something blind and you like it, you have to admit it.

Above: Aleš rocks out with his Soviet-era Tajfun bass (see headstock below). He played bass in the Yugoslav military band. Aleš became a fan of Nous Non Plus after he saw our Mobitel commercial and he invited the band to play a gig at his winery and later that week in Ljubljana.

“Oak is like the sheets of a bed,” said Aleš using a politically incorrect but apt simile, “when you break up with a girlfriend, you need to throw away the sheets and put new ones on the bed.” In his view, the yeasts and bacteria that grow on old oak barrels (and in particular, large oak barrels) can give unwanted flavors to the wine (other winemakers would argue that those flavors are elements in terroir expression).

One important element is the toasting of the oak. Aleš uses only gently toasted oak: “the staves are toasted by the cooper to shape the barrel,” he said, “not to give flavor to the wine.” (Many modern-style winemakers use heavily toasted oak to impart vanilla, chocolate, and tobacco and similar notes to their wines.)

But, most important, he explained, is the amount of time the wine spends in cask. “Many winemakers want to accelerate the aging process by using new oak for aging,” he said. “I’m not using the oak to soften the tannin. I am using it to oxygenate the wine slowly and gently.” (The pores in the new wood allow small amounts of oxygen to come into contact with the wine.) Where other producers age for 12 or even 18 months, Aleš often ages for up to 5 years in cask before bottling.

The other important element, he told me, is that he adds no sulfur whatsoever to his wine. “Even fine winemakers add very small amounts of sulfur in order to stabilize the wine more quickly. I don’t need to do that: I let time stabilize my wines. I’m not in a hurry,” Aleš said. The addition of sulfur, he explained, can cause the oak to impart some of its flavor to the wine.

Alder Yarrow just did a great post on Slovenia and Movia’s current releases over at his excellent blog Vinography.

I’ll be posting more on my stay and our shows in Slovenia and the wines we tasted and food we ate over the next few weeks. Look for my post on Movia’s Lunar: during my stay, Aleš revealed the secret of this 100% Ribolla Gialla that he makes from the free-run juice of whole bunches. He essentially fills a barrel with the grapes — stems and all — and lets the wine make itself. But there’s a trick to it: Aleš learned it all from a grape…

Slovenia is not as as developed as neighboring Friuli and its beauty is literally breath-taking. This shot — believe it or not — was taken from the toilet at the Movia guest house.