98 Paolo Bea Sagrantino: HOLY SHIT!

One of the great things about the nights I work the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I author the wine list) is the wines that collectors share with me (Sotto charges $18 for corkage).

And as much as I was digging the Cos 2008 Nero di Lupo last night (100% Nero d’Avola by one of the great Natural wine producers of Europe, recently added to my list), who could turn down a glass of 1998 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea???!!


I’ve asked Giampiero Bea what he thinks about the aging potential of his wines. Regrettably, he hasn’t kept a library of old vintages and you rarely come across older bottlings. When I asked him about it a few years ago, he told me that, frankly, he doesn’t know how the wines will hold up.

Dan Fredman, wine industry PR guru who generously shared this wine with me, and I agreed that this wine has many years ahead of it. The tannin has mellowed but is still very much present in the wine. The fruit was ripe red with earthy undertones, the acidity still very much alive and nervy, as the Italians would say. Fanfriggintastic wine… THANK YOU DAN! You rock — literally and figuratively…

We had an amazing dinner rush last night at Sotto and the glitterati were out in full force (who knew that rockstars dig rosé from Negroamaro?). Thank you to everyone who has come out to support me and my friends there. We’re having a great time…

I’ll be there again tonight: please come and see me and I’ll pour you a glass of wonderful…

Pairing Japanese with Italian, naturally, and June Rodil’s faboosh new list

uchi austin

Above: We paired 2008 Santa Chiara by Paolo Bea Saturday night with our sashimi et alia at the new Uchiko in Austin (friends and family soft opening). Not to be down with the dogma, but few would argue with the street cred of this natural wine. (Are you following the 32 Days of Natural Wine?)

Tracie P and me paired some Italian with Japanese on Saturday night during the soft opening (ongoing) at Austin’s new Uchiko, offshoot of the wildly successful and popular Uchi. The 2008 Santa Chiara by Paolo Bea — with its saltiness, crunchiness, and acidic nervousness (to borrow a phrase minted by Scott) — was brilliant with the myriad flavors that flowed like a red tide over our tongues.

Do you need me to tell you that the food at Uchiko was great? Nah… everyone knows why the Austinite Uchi brand has enjoyed such favor in this city on a river. In fact, the Uchi (now) family of restaurants stands apart as one of the few truly world-class dining destinations in Central Texas (beyond the apotheosis of barbecue in the form of a small Texas town known as Lockhart).


Above: Tracie P and me with the reigning “best sommelier in Texas” June Rodil (center).

What I am here to tell you is that the truly amazing June Rodil has put together a simply faboosh list there, with wines from the Jura, from the Loire, from Italy, and even some interesting Californians that might surprise the Cabernet-loving patron who thinks that Silver Oak goes with just about everything.

Chapeau bas and mazel tov and muchísimas gracias, June!

We had a fantastic time and awesome food and wine Saturday night, with great service (despite the kinks yet to be worked out in this newly christened kitchen).

But the best part of the evening was listening to 80s hits when we got home and Tracie P’s karaoke performance of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” complete with television remote control microphone and air guitar solo…

A new Paolo Bea is born!

and I mean that quite literally…

giampiero bea

At last night’s sold-out Paolo Bea dinner at Catalan in Houston (with more than 50 lucky souls in attendance), Giampiero Bea shared a photo of his six-month-old son Paolo using his mobile device. However natural the wines, when the winemaker is on the road, away from his newborn, technology sure is good for something, ain’t it? ;-)

Mazel tov to Giampiero and his family!

I’m also on the road today and so am posting in a hurry today but I had a fascinating conversation with Giampiero last night over dinner. You might be surprised by what he had to say about the role of technology in the production of natural wine. Stay tuned…

And this just in from the semiotics department…

A wine label is a text.

I was thrilled with the response to yesterday’s post on Italian winery designations. Thank you, everyone, for reading and sharing. I plan to expand the post, using the many queries and suggestions I received. Next week I’ll also try to do an initial post on vineyard designations and their meanings (bricco, surì, ronco, vigneto, vigna, et cetera), dialectal and otherwise.

And lastly, just had to share this…

Jeremy Parzen

Tracie P and I caught Jim Stringer’s set at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin on Tuesday night. Man, that cat can sure play him some geetar.

Vini Veri Tasting details, April 8-10, 2010 in Cerea

giampiero bea

Above: Giampiero Bea, owner of the Paolo Bea winery and one of the founders of Vini Veri. I took this picture when tasted with him last April at the Vini Veri fair.

A lot of folks have been writing me asking me what other events they should attend during the week of Vinitaly, the Italian wine industry’s annual trade fair.

Every year, one of my top destinations is the Vini Veri tasting. I finally got my hands on event details for the tasting, which will be held in Cerea (and not in Isola della Scala) this year.

My good friend (and fellow San Diegan and UCLA alumna) Marisa Huff, who’s working on event organization and media relations, told me that convention-center space at Cerea will help to accommodate the fair’s growth and that the entire tasting will take place in the same hall, making it easier to navigate and negotiate. Some of the charm of Villa Boschis (where the event was held in the past) will be lost, she said, but the new venue will make it a lot easier for attendees to make the rounds. Thanks, Marisa, for sending me the info (below)! :-)

Hope to see you there!

    Vini Veri 2010

    The Dates: Thursday, April 8th to Saturday, April 10th

    The Time: 10 AM to 6 PM

    The Place: AreaExp Events Center, in Cerea (Province of Verona), about a half-hour drive/train ride from Vinitaly.

    The Producers: over 130 natural wine producers, from Italy and beyond.

    The Organizers: Vini Veri Consortium and Renaissance Des Appellations.

    A complete list of the participating winemakers will soon be available on our website, www.viniveri.net.

Bea Santa Chiara 07, an orange wine couldn’t push back the crimson tide

Above: We toasted the Longhorns last night at Vino Vino with an orange wine, Paolo Bea 2007 Santa Chiara (since orange is the school’s color) but it didn’t help them push back the crimson tide.

Two years ago, if you would have told me that I’d be “double dating online,” I would have told you to go to quel paese, as they say in Italian. Yes, online double dating. That’s exactly what Tracie B and I did last night when we connected for wine and dinner with the couple behind the fantastic Austin food blog, Boots in the Oven, Rachel and Logan. We started following their blog a few months ago and an exchange of comments led to traded emails and the realization that we had a lot in common. The next thing you knew, we were double-dating! (It’s actually uncanny: Rachel and I were born in the exact same neighborhood in Chicago and practically went to the same Hebrew school, though she’s much younger than I; she did go to the same middle school my older brothers attended.)

Above: The owner of Vino Vino brought in a TV to watch the Texas-Alabama game last night and he debuted his “biergarten” menu. The kielbasa is made in-house and was finger-licking delicious.

We all met up last night at Vino Vino in Austin to watch the game together and check its new “biergarten” menu.

And then, as happy chance would have it, we ran into to couple Nat and Erin, who authors a hilarious but also insightful rant blog about working in the restaurant industry in Texas — To Serve Man (the title alone…).

Above: My eyes were bigger than my stomach and I just had to have the boneless, fried chicken thigh sandwich. Snackboy, I’ve got to take you here next time your in my town!

In honor of the orange-clad Longhorns, we opened a bottle of 2007 Santa Chiara by Paolo Bea, a blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Garganega (as per Jack’s post on the wine — you can find the blend on the label, btw). It’s an indisputable “orange wine,” a tannic white made from white grapes vinified with extended skin contact.

Man, I love this wine. It’s one of those if-I-could-afford-it-I’d-drink-it-every-day wines for me.

The first vintage I ever tasted was the 2005, which I really didn’t like. But the 2006 and 2007 (even better) are phenomenally good. When I tasted with him in April 2009 at Vini Veri, I asked Gianpiero Bea what changed between 05 and 06 and he told me that he hadn’t macerated with skins long enough in 05. From then on, he said, extended maceration has been employed. And wow, the results are fantastic — a tannic, mineral-driven wine, with rich dried fruit flavors (think apricot) and a rich orange marmelade note. N.B.: in my opinion, this wine should be served cellar temperature, not chilled. (Last night, we grabbed a bottle from the wall at Vino Vino and asked our server to bring over an ice bucket. We chilled it for just a few minutes and then served. It was perfect.)

Unfortunately, as good as the orange wine was, it didn’t help the Longhorns to push back the crimson tide.

In other news…

I was very proud to be included as a “wine influencer” in a Palate Press post entitled Thoughts on the New Year. Guess what I’m talking about: no, not wine. PASTRAMI!

CMO reforms and how they relate to Italy

Tracie B and I recently opened a bottle of 2004 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea (a DOCG) that we had picked up at The Austin Wine Merchant. The wine was super tannic yet also had a wonderful “lightness of being.” We could not stop talking about it. So good… Photos by Tracie B.

In the wake of yesterday’s post on why the Italian DOC/G does and does not matter, I received a lot of positive and inquisitive feedback. So minister Luca Zaia and the Prosecco wars will have to wait until tomorrow.

First of all, some Googling this morning (prepping for my Tuscany seminar tonight at The Austin Wine Merchant) led me to this site, Agraria.org, which does seem to have a nearly complete list of DOCGs (although the new Matelica DOCG is not listed, it does include some of the most recently added DOCGs like the Moscato di Scanzo and Prosecco Asolo and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene).

Secondly, in case you haven’t been following the European Commission’s efforts to “streamline” and “simplify” European Union markets, here’s a link to some background info.

The bottom line: in 2006 the European Commission “proposed to the Council and the European Parliament to adopt one single Common Market Organisation for all agricultural products. This project, ‘the Single CMO’ is another important step in the process of simplification, which is priority of the Commission.”

As part of this process, beginning with the current vintage, EU member states’s wines will be required to be labeled with the one of the following classifications: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italian, the acronyms are as follows: DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta).

The following links will take you to some back ground info: here and here.

Here’s a link to E-Bacchus, a searchable database of all the currently registered PDOs and PGIs. There are currently 412 records in the PDO database (Italian DOCs and DOCGs) and 120 records in the PGI database (Italian IGTs).

And here’s a English Wiki entry on Protected Geographical Status.

In case you missed it, Franco wrote (and I translated) this editorial on the mad rush that preceded August 1, 2009 deadline for the creation of new DOCs and DOCGs.

On Saturday night, we ordered 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco (a DOC) at Il Sogno in San Antonio (no website). It’s one of our favorite wines and Il Sogno offers it at a fantastic on-premise price, a great value. We’re planning to serve this wine at our wedding! :-)

In my view, the CMO reforms are a good thing (for a number of reasons) and were “agreed by Italy” (as you say in diplomatic-speak): existing DOCs and DOCGs will be allowed on labeling (despite some alarmist reactions unfortunately based on sloppy blogging and reporting).

There are a number of reforms that have been implemented in Italy and Franco and I have reported on some of them at VinoWire. These include grubbing up, distillation, and use of grape must reforms, all aimed at streamlining the system and rewarding producers in member states for eliminating waste and observing environmentally friendly farming and vinification practices.

The new labeling, in my view, will help to simplify the appellation system, thus aiding those of us who buy and sell Italian wines.

From what I have read, there are other reforms as well (some of them unfortunately allowing undesirable commercial practices, like the use of oak chips).

But the most significant reform, in regard to Italy, in my view, is that at some point — and it’s not clear when — Italian winemakers will be able to use varietal labeling when producing international varieties. In other words, a wine like Planeta Merlot putatively could be labeled “Sicilian Merlot” or a Merlot from Tuscany hypothetically could be labeled “Montalcino Merlot.” Varietal labeling will not be allowed for indigenous varieties like Sangiovese or Aglianico.

Essentially, from what I understand, it will allow Italian producers to label their wines the way Californians and Australians do and consequently it will allow them to compete more aggressively in international markets.

While I’m not sure I want to drink Sicilian or Montalcino Merlot (and again, I need to stress, it’s not entirely clear how the labeling reforms will be implemented), it will free Italian producers from the yoke of currently strict labeling regulations. If someone wanted to produce a Montalcino Merlot and label it as such, that would be her or his business — literally.

Like the story of the Rabbi and the Ham Sandwich, I don’t need to drink Merlot from Montalcino. But if someone else wants to, that’s fine with me.

The red, white, and sparkling carpet at Vini Veri 2009

Posting hastily this morning as I head out for another day at the fair and then tasting later today at Dal Forno in Valpolicella… Here are some quick highlights from the “red, white, and sparkling carpet” at the 2009 gathering of Vini Veri, the “real wine” movement, “wines made how nature intended them,” as the group’s motto goes.

If ever there were a winemaker who looked like a movie star, it’s got to be Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea. I finally got to taste his 2006 Arboreus, an Etruscan-trained 100% Trebbiano vinified with extended skin contact. In a later post, I’ll write more about the wine and what Giampiero had to tell me about the 2005 vs. 2006 vintages of his Santa Chiara. The 2004 Sagrantino was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Last year, I tasted Maria Teresa Mascarello’s 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo out of barrel (literally, when the cellar master brought it up for her to taste for the first time). I was excited to taste it again a year later in bottle. She’s carrying on her father’s tradition of artist labels with polemical messages. Her “Langa Valley” label (left) is pretty hilarious.

I really dig Adelchi Follador’s natural Prosecco, which he ages on its lees and bottles in magnum. His winery, Coste Piane, also makes a still Prosecco. The wine is great, probably the best Prosecco you can find in America (imported by Dressner).

Franco turned me on to the Barbaresco Montestefano by Teobaldo Rivella. I tasted the 2004 and 2005 and was entirely blown away by how good this wine showed. It reminded me of Giacosa in style and caliber and its power and elegance made me think of an Arabian filly in a bottle.

Marco Arturi is a truly gifted writer who marries wine and literature. He posts often at Porthos. He is a steadfast defender and promoter of natural wine. We had never met before but we write to each and check in from time to time on Facebook: when we met in person it felt like we knew each other well. The whole Facebook thing is pretty cool.

Getting to taste with Franco Ziliani is one of the highlights of any trip to Italy for me. I admire him greatly for his writing, his integrity as a wine writer, and his palate, and I am proud to consider him my friend and colleague. When Franco point me in the direction of a wine, I know I’m not going to be disappointed.

Vini Veri without its co-founder Teobaldo Cappellano reminded me of the Lou Reed song “What’s Good”:

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Baldo was a wonderful man and even though the fair was great this year (and expanded to include the Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir tastings), it just didn’t feel the same without him.

The image of Baldo with his son Augusto (above) hovered over the room where he would have presented his wines.

I’ll write more on my experience at Vini Veri when I get home. Off to Valpolicella and then Alto Adige… Stay tuned…


Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like forever becoming
But life’s forever dealing in hurt
Now life’s like death without living
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run

What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good’s a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all

What good’s a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good’s a disease that won’t hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all

What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all

What’s good is life without living
What good’s this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It’s not fair, not fair at all

What’s good?
Not much at all

What’s good?
Life’s good
But not fair at all

— Lou Reed

incipit annus secundus vinorum alborum

Thus beginneth the second year of white wine… (IWG got me excited about Latin this morning.)

Last year was my first official “year of white wine.” Tracie B and I kicked off the second last night with colleagues at our favorite Austin wine bar Vino Vino.

The 2006 Santa Chiara by Paolo Bea was deep golden in color (the result of skin contact during maceration, no doubt) and showed gorgeously. My favorite vintage of this wine so far.

The 2005 Savennieres Les Clos Sacrés was oxidized and unctuous, “mouth watering,” in Tracie B’s words (I’ll leave you salivating for her tasting notes at My Life Italian).

And while I’m loving Josh Loving’s superb list at Vino Vino (and was very psyched to find out he’s a fan of my band Nous Non Plus!), the most intriguing wine was brought by one of my colleagues: Anas-Cëtta by Elvio Cogno, a grape variety I’d never tried before. Click here for the fact sheet.

Italy Day 4: finalmente, Vini Veri!

Above: tasters nap in the springtime sun outside Villa Boschi where the Vini Veri tasting was held again this year. I don’t know why but my day at Vini Veri made me think of the northern Italian folk song “L’uva fogarina”: “Quant’è bella l’uva fogarina, quant’è bello saperla vendemmiar!” (The Fogarina grape is so good! So good for the pickin’!). See below…

Let’s face it: we all go to Vinitaly every year because we have to: by the second day of the massive trade and consumer fair, the pavilions are a slosh of deal-making, true and otherwise would-be wine professionals, the occasional parasitic wine writer, and a sea of reveling imbibers who show up to get their drink on. Every year, the same parties, the same dinners, the same 45-minute back-and-forth drive from Verona because who can afford a $700-a-night room downtown? Well, I can’t.

But a breath of fresh air awaits those true lovers of real wine who attend the increasing number of satellite, alternative fairs. My favorite is the Vini Veri tasting, held at the Villa Boschi in the heart of the Veronese heartland (Isola della Scala township).

Above: I was captivated by Dario Princic’s whites, all of them macerated with skin contact, like this Pinot Grigio (in the photo). Few realize that Pinot Grigio is a red grape — a light red, but red nonetheless. It was the Santa Margherita white Pinot Grigio craze (which began more than 25 years ago) that made Pinot Grigio a white grape. Princic’s wines are fantastic.


Dario Princic (Friuli, see above, his Tocai was among the best I’ve ever tasted), Vodopivec (Friuli, I tasted some aged Vodopivec Vitovska later on in the trip and will report in an upcoming post), Coste Piane (Veneto, Prosecco aged sur lies and fermented using metodo classico – double-fermented in bottle – in magnum, freakin’ killer), Monte dall’Ora (Veneto, great Valpolicella and his top Amarone is off-the-charts good, need to taste with Brooklynguy) and, of course, Paolo Bea (the inimitable producer of Sagrantino).

But that’s not to exclude so many awesome producers who make natural, real wines: Cappellano, Trinchero, Rinaldi (Giuseppe), Cos, just to name a few (Maria Teresa Mascarello was not at Vini Veri this year).

Above: Gianpiero Bea of Paolo Bea. Gianpiero is one of the founders of Vini Veri.

Dario Princic told me that there is a movement within Vini Veri to reunite with the splinter group Vinatur and the Triple A tasting next year: the idea is that of organizing a fair at the Vicenza fair grounds with 200-250 producers, a fair that “could truly rival Vinitaly,” Dario said.

When I asked Gianpiero Bea about this, he didn’t seem too pleased.

Above: it was great to see my old friends Steve and Sita, high-school sweethearts (they met on an exchange program in Spain), married to this day, with two beautiful daughters. Sita’s friend Giovanni Baschieri got me my first gig in Padua way back in 1987!

My college roommate (from my first year at the Università di Padova) Steve Muench (above left) and his wife Sita Saviolo (above center) drove down from Padua to taste with me. I saw them a few times on this trip and they even made it up to Ljubljana to see Nous Non Plus perform there.

I can’t recommend Vini Veri enough: if you have the chance next year, be sure to make it down there. To me Vini Veri represents a mix of all the best things about Italy: real wine, real people… winemaking as ideology, winemaking that expresses place… heavily-left-leaning politics and homegrown, grassroots organizing… Vini Veri is a wine fair that even Pier Paolo Pasolini would be proud of (especially in the light of his Friulian origins, since so many great Friulian producers present their wines there). Does anyone remember Poesie a Casarsa?

Even if you don’t understand Italian (or Friulian dialect), check out the images in this short on the collection of poetry that won Pasolini fame at an early age:

There are many versions of L’uva fogarina on YouTube but I liked this one the best. Most believe the Fogarina grape to be a type of Lambrusco found near the town of Gualtieri in Emilia. Something about that beautiful spring day in the middle of the fields made me think of L’uva fogarina. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination…