Tough times in Piedmont

Above: In a protest mounted earlier this month in Asti, besieged Piedmont grape growers and winemakers pleaded for government aid (photo by

I managed to carve out some time this morning to post over at VinoWire on recent developments in Piedmont for grape growers and winemakers affected by the global wine crisis.

On his excellent blog Sapori del Piemonte, Filippo Larganà has been providing some solid coverage of what’s happening on the ground there.

The Summer Winter of Our Disconnect: 12.5% Cabernet? And other good stuff we ate and drank in California

chino farms

Above: Both my buddy John Rikkers and I ordered the “Market Salad” at Market in Rancho Santa Fe. It’s no longer on the menu but they’ll make it for you on request. All the lightly blanched ingredients are sourced from San Diego’s legendary Chino Farms farmers market.

Everywhere you go in California, people are complaining about the cool summer weather. By most accounts, it’s the coolest summer we’ve had here for more than 70 years.

On Sunday, Vinogirl (who authors my all-time favorite California wine blog, Vinsanity) didn’t mince words: “Actually, I am very surprised that [veraison, i.e., ripening] is happening at all as it only managed a whopping high of 70F today,” she wrote plaintfully. “So far, the weather in 2010 has been pathetic!”

mea culpa

Above: I’d never had the Bouvier grape, known as Ranina in Slovenia, until last night at Market, where sommelier Brian Donegan always has something by the glass that will surprise and delight the adventurous wine lover, like this 2007 Mea Culpa by Kogl. I would have guessed it was a dry Muscat but it had some gentle orchard fruit notes seemed to speak a Slavic as opposed to Romance language.

Yesterday, in a fantastic post, one of America’s wine industry social media pioneers Tom Wark (and all-around nice dude) wrote and asked rhetorically, is this a bad thing?

    If this weather keeps up, it’s entirely likely that some winemakers are going to have to learn how to make good Napa or Sonoma Cabernet with an alcohol content of (brace yourself)…12.5%. […]

    Clearly 2010 is looking to be a better vintage for early ripening grapes like Pinot Noir. But even the Pinots are likely to suffer a diminishing alcohol content. The question is this: is that a bad thing? I think it might be for many winemakers, particularly those that tend to produce big, fat, huge unctuous Pinots with high alcohol content.

ettore germano

Above: The acidity in Ettore Germano’s Chardonnay was, as Tracie P likes to say, “tongue-splitting.” It’s not like me to order Chardonnay from Italy (outside of Friuli) but I must say that I dug this wine completely. Very mineral, very bright acidity. Always something good by the glass at Market.

Of course, the mystery of California’s unusually cool summer begs the question among its “red state” populace: with summer temperatures like these, how can the pinkos still cling to their claims of global warming?

seaweed salad

Above: Seaweed salad at Zenbu in La Jolla.

I’m sure I imagine that Tom would agree with me: anyone who works in the wine industry and spends times with grape growers will tell you that European winemakers — even the most conservative among them — believe that global warming is indeed taking place. In Tuscany, where the grapes used to ripen in October, grape growers will tell you that they now ripen as early as late August (although this year, at least in Sant’Angelo, grapes are ripening about a week behind schedule).

California roll

Above: One of the thing I love about Zenbu is the playful California creativity in the menu, with items like the “Jackie Chan” roll and the “Mexicali” roll. That’s the gorgeous sashimi roll (a contradiction in terms?). There’s nothing worse than boring sushi!

Once, when I interviewed a famous winemaker in Piedmont for a commercial writing gig of mine, he unabashedly told me, referring to the remarkable string of great vintages in Piedmont spanning 1996-2001, “global warming has made me a very rich man.”

Above: French Toast at Jaynes Gastropub in North Park (San Diego).

To those who claim and believe global warming is part of a secret left-wing conspiracy, I say: who cares whether it’s true or not? At 43 years of age, I’m old enough to remember the first “energy crisis” in the 70s: whether or not you believe in global warming, there’s no denying that it’s high-time to “clean up our act.”

bellyup tavern

Above: My childhood and a best friend Charlie George created this “White Trash” gift basket raffle item for a benefit for local musician Michael Muldoon last night at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, where Charlie and a bunch of other friends of mine performed.

So whether (weather) you’re sweating your nuts off in the rest of the country, wearing a sweater in Sonoma, or getting ready to pick grapes in Tuscany, don’t forget to turn off the lights! And be sure to eat your California leafy greens…

Thanks for reading!

The Do Bianchi Vajra Six-Pack is live!

I was able to secure a small allocation of Vajra wines to offer to my California wine club Do Bianchi Selections (click the link to view the offering). Tracie P and I dig these wines and I’m thrilled to be able to make them available to my subscribers. Wouldn’t you concur McDuff?

The Barbera 7 ends its journey at the legendary Felicin in Monforte

The Barbera 7 ended its week-long tour of tastings and winery visits in Asti and Langa with some old Nebbiolo at the legendary Da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba. The last wine we opened together was a 1978 Franco-Fiorina Barbaresco, a bygone bottle, to borrow Eric’s phrase. Not everyone agreed with my assessment of the wine but I thought it was fantastic (Frank and Charles would have loved it, I’m sure, for I have drunk many old expressions of such great Nebbiolo with them).

Owner, chef, polyglot, and showman Nino Rocca’s food was excellent last night. His asparagus with savory zabaglione was superb.

His cooking is colorful and creative, riffing off the Piedmontese canon, like these tajerin dressed with ragù and new garlic.

The décor at Felicin is elegant 19th century, the atmosphere warm and jovial, and the cellar… aaaahhhh… the cellar… That’s an artist label 1989 Bartolo Mascarello created especially for the restaurant. A little out of my price range… but, wow…

Nino and his wife Silvia are extremely sweet folks. He and I like to joke that he looks more Jewish and I look more Italian…

Come valanga scendo come tormenta salgo (I descend like an avalanche, like a blizzard I climb). Nino showed us how partisans used to leave messages for one another by scribbling notes on the back of paintings so that the Germans wouldn’t find them. The text on the back of the frame he showed us was the motto of the Alpine battalion “L’Aquila” (“The Eagle”) when it fought for the liberation between 1944-45.

Bye-bye, Barbera 7, I’ll miss you guys. It’s been an incredible week and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support — professional and personal. You’re the best…

From left, clockwise: Thor, Whitney, Cory, Fredric, Stuart, me, and Jon.

I’ve been gone for a week now and the homesickness is really beginning to get to me. One more day of meetings and then an evening in Milan with friends… I can’t wait to hold my sweet Tracie P in my arms and tell her over and over again how much I love her…

Italy: Birth of a Wine Nation

From the “a Ph.D. has got to be good for something, doesn’t it?” department…

Jeremy Parzen

I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be teaching a six-part seminar on Italian wine starting a month from today, every Tuesday at 7 p.m., at The Austin Wine Merchant. The title of series, “Italy: Birth of a Wine Nation,” was inspired by the vision of Italy’s first two prime ministers, Camillo Cavour and Bettino Ricasoli, both winemakers in their own right. As Italian independence and the Italian monarchy began to take shape in the second half of the nineteenth century, Cavour (in Piedmont) and Ricasoli (in Tuscany) envisioned the production of fine wine as a loadstone of the nascent Italian economy, identity, and nation. If only they were alive today to experience the renaissance of Italian wine!

Please join me in October and November for one or more of my classes and tastings (6 wines will be tasted during each session in one-ounce pours). Participants may reserve for individual or multiple sessions.


A 6-class series on Italian wine, past, present, and future with Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D.

Tuesdays in October and early November, staring at 7 p.m.

The Austin Wine Merchant
512 W 6th St.
Austin, TX 78701-2806

To reserve, please call: (512) 499-0512.

Italian Wine 101 — October 6 — $25

Introduction to Italian wines, an overview of Italy’s most important grapes and major wine production zones, and the secret to unlocking the mysteries of Italian wine labels. Taste 6 wines from 6 different regions.

Jeremy Parzen

Tuscany — October 13 — $37.50

Learn what makes Super Tuscans so super (you might be surprised at the answer), experience Italy’s quintessential red grape Sangiovese in its greatest expressions (modern and traditional). Taste six wines including Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico.

The “Other” Piedmont — October 20 — $25

This is the Piedmont your mother didn’t tell you about: Moscato d’Asti, Gavi, Freisa, Dolcetto, Barbera, and “outer borough” Nebbiolo. Taste 6 wines that the Piedmontese produce and drink regularly.

Jeremy Parzen

Piedmont’s De Facto Cru System — October 27 — $37.50
(recommended for wine professionals and collectors)

Learn the difference between the east and west sides of the Barolo to Alba road and explore the nuanced distinctions between Tortonian and Helvetian subsoils. Debunk the feminine vs. masculine myth in the Barbaresco and Barolo debate. Taste 6 noble expressions of Nebbiolo.

Jeremy Parzen

The Enigmatic Wines of the Veneto — November 3 — $37.50

Unlock the mysteries of Valpolicella, Amarone, and Recioto della Valpolicella, taste one of Italy’s most ancient noble wines, Soave, and learn why Venetians love their Prosecco so much. When in Venice: taste 6 ombre as the Venetians say!

Jeremy Parzen

Italian Wine and Civilization — November 10 — $25

Read 6 passages from Italian literature and history and taste 6 related wine selections. Readings include Dante, Machiavelli, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, Camillo Cavour (above, far left, 19th-century Piedmontese winemaker and Italy’s first prime minister), and Bettino “Iron Baron” Ricasoli (above, far right, 19th-century Tuscan winemaker and Italy’s second prime minister).

To reserve, please call: (512) 499-0512

Birthday-anniversary week part I: 99 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano

NEWS FLASH This just in: we’ve posted the list of wines we’ll be pouring at the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit on August 9 at Jaynes Gastropub. On Weds. and Thurs. next week, I am the guest sommelier at Jaynes. Please come out to see me and taste together if you’re in town!

Above: My favorite way to enjoy great Nebbiolo is with cheese. At Central Market, a block from my apartment, I found Robiola, Toma, and Castelmagno (each from Piedmont) and a Val d’Aosta Fontina. The Castelmagno hadn’t been handled properly but the others were good, especially the Robiola. It’s remarkable to think that these moldy creations find their way to central Texas.

Tuesday night’s birthday celebration centered around a gift of 1999 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano (white label) that my true love gave to me for the occasion. She saw me eyeing the bottle a few weeks ago in a San Antonio fine wine shop. I hate to give away one of our best-kept secrets down here in Texas but, as Italian Wine Guy noted the other day, there are lots of shops here and in the Midwest where wine connoisseurs have collected great European wines without the inflated New York, Los Angeles, and Napa/Sonoma/San Francisco prices (I actually know a great place in San Diego, too, but I’m going to keep that best-kept secret to myself!). At this particular retailer in San Antonio, you can find a lot of older Nebbiolo at prices only marked up slightly from the release price (like a 2001 Faset by Castello di Verduno, one of my favorite producers, picked up for a song). The other element that makes things interesting is that few — if any — of these shops put their inventory online (in part because — and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way — they are Luddites when it comes to anything intraweb-related and in part because anachronistic blue laws prevent/impede them from selling their products online or via email). As a result, the inventories are not picked over by internet surfers: you have to visit the store in situ to peruse the wines.

The day that Tracie B and I happened to visit the store in question, everything in the store was 20% off (in fact, the owner gives 20% off on the entire stock every Friday and Saturday). I’m not saying this to attenuate the value of the wonderful gift she gave me but let’s just say — moral of the story — that we didn’t have to break the bank to enjoy a truly extraordinary bottle of wine.

Tracie B made me a blueberry pie with fresh blueberries for my birthday, a tradition started a long time ago by mama Parzen.

I have always detested the Mao Squires/Parker disciples who squeal and scream that opening a bottle like this is “infanticide.” That’s just hogwash. It’s always interesting to open great Nebbiolo and see where it is in its evolution and it’s ridiculous to think that we all have to be like them and drink wine in freezing wine bunkers (the way they do, hence their blue blood) and wait for every single bottle to be at its peak when we drink it. This 10-year-old beauty (made in a vintage when Giacosa didn’t make a Santo Stefano reserve) was stunning. It was one of those wines that left both of us speechless, with gorgeous fruit and earthy flavors. (Btw, Ken Vastola authors an excellent registry of the wines of Giacosa here).

It’s been such a special week for me and for me and Tracie B — with all the well wishes and congratulations. Thank you, everyone, from the bottom of my heart…

@Trace B thanks for sharing such an incredible bottle of wine for my birthday. I already felt like the luckiest guy in the world… :-)

On deck: Part II, 1991 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant… amazing wine and a crazy story of how we got it… stay tuned…