Drinking American with my Rockport crispy softshell crab in Houston

We drank two American wines between the four of us last night, when cousins Marty and Joanne, family friend Taylor and I shared a truly superb seafood dinner last night at one of Houston’s more glamorous dining destinations Mark’s (pricey, I gotta say, but worth every penny… thanks again, ya’ll for a great dinner, btw!).

The pièce de résistance was the crispy softshell crabs from Rockport, Texas (above), which wine director Saree Mulhern deftly and keenly paired with a wine I’d never tasted before, 2007 Retour Pinot Noir. I told Saree that I was hoping for a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir, not old world per se, but with good acidity and balanced use of wood. She delivered a beauty of a wine, I must say. The pairing with the fresh-tasting softshell, gently battered and fried (a Houstonian delicacy), was brilliant.

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white: the 2008 Pinot Blanc by Robert Foley — “no barrel, no malo” as his site reports — was fresh and bright and wonderful with my “trio” of seafood appetizers (actually a tetralogy). I was blown away by the Louisiana crawfish tails, which the chef seemed to have treated as he would steamed langoustines — an aristocratic demise for these “mudbugs,” as they are called around these parts. Man, if I came across a live crawfish as big as that, I’d probably run for the hills!

You see? I’m trying to break my old habits and drink domestically… I can’t think of a better place than Saree’s list to do it.

In other news…

This is how I feel right now:

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won’t you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.

Man, I’m looking forward to some downtime with that super fine lady of mine this weekend! I miss her so much after a week too hectic with work and other mishegas… On Monday, I might just ask her to call my job and tell my boss I won’t be in, to borrow one of Guy Stout’s favorite lyrics…

Killer Nerello from the “highest” vines and fried oysters


Above: At $10 a glass (!), this 2008 blend of Nerello Mascaelese and Nerello Capuccio from “2,100-2,900 feet above sea level” (!) BLEW ME AWAY. The pairing with fried gulf oysters was a great example of how the right red wine, not to heavy in body, can be ideal for seafood.

It’s been just over a year now since I moved to Austin and there are still a few culinary destinations that I haven’t made it to yet. Last night finally found me at appetizers and a glass of wine at Jeffrey’s in Austin. It’s one of the more elegant rooms here, well laid out architectonically for intimate dining (despite a couple who had brought their crying newborn and a table of five older ladies who complained vociferously — more loudly, in fact — about the child’s lachrymatory suspiration).

I’ll have to take Tracie B back for a proper dinner soon: I liked the wine list and was surprised by some interesting choices but I was BLOWN AWAY by a wine I’d never had before, the 2008 Etna Rosso by Tenuta delle Terre Nere — at $10, yes $10! by the glass (“BTG” in restaurantspeak).


Above: Tenuta delle Terre Nere doesn’t have a website but I used PagineBianche.it to find the address and then Google-mapped it and switched to “satellite” view. That’s the peak of Mt. Aetna in the center. I love how you can see the black soil (the “terre nere”) from space!

I wasn’t expecting to like this wine but was curious about it. I’d heard a lot of people talk about it since I moved to Texas but was nonetheless skeptical: it’s owned by a famous importer of Italian wines, who tends to favor modern-style wines (historically and commercially) and I’ve often been disappointed by wines created by importers for the American market. But a little research this morning revealed that Tenuta delle Terre Nere sells its wines actively and aggressively in Italy. In other words, it’s not just a winery created for a foreign market and has a true connection to the place where it is made.


Above: There is tartare and then there is tartare. The fried potato puffs were a little soggy unfortunately but the tartare was delicious and paired magnificently with the Nerello.

According to the importer’s website, grapes for this wine are grown “at extremely high altitudes, ranging from 2100-2900 feet above sea level” and the winery owns the “highest-altitude red-grape vineyards in Europe” (although that fruit doesn’t go into this wine).

This wine was all black earth and dusty minerality (like putting lava in your mouth) yet fresh and bright, with a seductive aromatic profile that made me think of dried figs. (I apologize for the “precious” tasting notes but this wine really turned me on.)

I loved it. I loved the price, I loved the body, aroma, and flavor. I loved the food-friendliness of it. I even loved the label (honest, clean, elegant, true to the style and origin of the contents). The only thing I don’t like about it is how so many wine writers compare it to Burgundy and to Pinot Noir (to my palate, Nerello and Pinot Noir have little in common, other than the fact that they can produce light-colored tannic wines). When they do that, they only reveal their ignorance: this wine is one of those truly terroir-driven wines, a wine that could only be made in the volcanic subsoils of Mt. Aetna, from Nerello grown in the “highest” vineyards in the world…

Run don’t walk…

Some best bubbles and life beyond Prosecco…

Above: I took this photo earlier this year atop Cartizze, the most prestigious growing site for Prosecco, where the cost of land per acre is higher than in Napa Valley. In 1998, Tom Stevenson wrote that Prosecco is “probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world” (The Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, reprint 2003).

Xenophobe and racist Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has infamously and nationalistically asked Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine for their New Year’s celebration this year. His campanilistic call comes in part as the result of a backlash from last year’s nationalized television controversy when the announcers of RAI Uno opened Champagne during a televised New Year’s eve event.

Of course, Zaia is also infamous for the favoritism he’s shown for his beloved Prosecco this year. He even created the Prosecco DOCG, placing the humble Prosecco grape in the pantheon of the top classification, before Common Market Organisation reforms took effect this year.

Above: Italy produces such a wonderful variety of sparkling wines, from the humble yet beloved Prosecco to the often regal, zero-dosage Franciacorta. Franco and I tasted an amazing array of sparkling wines last year together at Ca’ del Bosco.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Prosecco. And I love the place where it produced and the people who produce it. Just ask Alfonso: he remembers well how I guided us to Valdobbiadene from Trento earlier this year, without ever looking at a map, my Trevisan cadence getting stronger and stronger as my beloved Piave river and its tributaries came into earshot. You see, many years ago, I made my living traveling along the Piave river, from Padua to Belluno, playing American music for pub crawlers.

Above: One of the best champagne-method wines I’ve tasted in recent memory was this Franciacorta rosé by Camossi. Structure, toasty notes and fresh fruit flavors, bright acidity and fine bubbles, an excellent pairing for all the lake fish, smoked, pickled, and roasted, that Franco, Giovanni, Ben, and I ate one fateful night in Erbusco.

But there are so many wonderful sparkling Italian wines beyond Prosecco (Sommariva and Coste Piane are my two favorite expressions of Prosecco available right now in this country). Franciacorta is the first obvious destination but there are so many other producers of fine sparkling white wines made from indigenous and international grape varieties: champagne-method Erbaluce from Carema in Piedmont (Orsolani), Charmat-method Favorita from Mango in Piedmont (Tintero), champagne-method Pinot Noir from Emilia (Lini), Charmat-method Moscato known as Moscadello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Il Poggione), a rosé blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from Langa in Piedmont (Deltetto)… Those are the first that come to mind but there are many, many others. Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every region of Italy, from the sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Trentino and South Tyrol to sparkling Ribolla of Friuli and the sparkling Verdicchio of the Marches. Once, I even tasted a sparkling Nerello Mascalese from Sicily that had been vinified as a white wine (but I can’t recall the producer… please let me know if you know one).

Above: Hand-riddled magnums of Chardonnay for Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta.

Why do we feel obliged to drink something sparkling on New Year’s eve, anyway? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the royal court of Britain, the Czars, Napoleon’s vinous invasion of Russia, and some enterprising Germans who set up shop in Champagne in the 19th century.

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what we’re going to open on New Year’s but I’m sure it’ll be something good.

On deck for tomorrow…

Best Champagne and other French sparkling values by guest blogger BrooklynGuy.

And in the meantime, please check out Tom’s post today on “classy sparkling wines.”

Who cuts Jim Clendenen’s unruly hair? (and Dr. J in the Statesman)

felice partida

Above: You wouldn’t believe it but rockstar winemaker Jim Clendenen and I have the same hair stylist, the rockin’ Felice Partida. The only difference? Jim has hair…

BrooklynGuy is not the only guy who gets to go to cool tastings this week, during our industry’s fall preview season (although I have to confess I wish I had had a chance to check out the Jenny and François portfolio in New York with him).

Those highfalutin New Yorkers might be surprised by the caliber of wine folk who come out to visit with us down here in central Texas. ;-)

Yesterday, I tasted a lot of great wines, including current releases from some of my favorite Italians from importer Dalla Terra — Selvapiana (07 Chianti Rufina was KILLER), Marchesi di Grésy (05 Barbaresco was stunning), Tenuta Sant’Antonio (05 was great, always one of my favorite expressions of Amarone).

I also enjoyed tasting with Jim Clendenen, whose wines — especially the high-end bottlings — are always fresh, elegant well-balanced expressions of California Pinot Noir. And I couldn’t resist the above photo op moment: Jim and I share the same hair stylist, Felice Partida! She and I met simply because I booked an appointment last year with the first stylist available at Tracie B’s salon, James Allan, in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin where we both live. Felice is simply the coolest and as it turns out, her big sis’ Susana is also one of the coolest wine brokers in Texas, AND Felice’s boyfriend Ronnie James is one of the town’s hottest bass players (who plays and tours with the likes of Booker T, Gary Clark Jr., and Jimmy Vaughn — not bad eh?). I highly recommend Felice: being her client comes with “fringe” benefits! ;-)

bin 36

Above: Restaurateur and winemaker Brian Duncan is one of our country’s most dynamic food and wine experts. He’s also one of the coolest guys in the biz.

I also got to catch up with rockstar restaurateur and winemaker Brian Duncan from Chicago. I thought his Pinot Noir show beautifully and the packaging alone made it worth the price of admission. The back label reads: Sexy Pinot Noir seeks short term relationship with recipes that include mushrroms, pork, beef, or poultry (No strings attached).

In other news…

Check out Mike Sutter’s excellent article in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, “Messages in a bottle: The mystique of the restaurant wine list.” I was thrilled that Mike interviewed me for the piece and was glad to make the point that you shouldn’t “go into a restaurant with the presumption that people are going to try and take advantage of you… When you pay for a glass of wine in a restaurant, you’re not just paying for the wine. You’re paying for the restaurant’s cellaring of the wine. You’re paying for the service of the wine, and you’re also paying for the expertise.” The other wine professionals interviewed for the piece give some great advice about how to decipher a wine list. The bottom line: go out and enjoy restaurants and their wines. That’s what they’re there for! :-)

In other other news…

Above: Tracie B and I tasted 1988 Bertani Amarone with our friends Charles and Michele Scicolone and Frank Butler earlier this year when we were on tour with Nous Non Plus.

Today, Franco published this great interview with our mutual friend (and one of my mentors) Charles Scicolone. It’s in Italian so if you’re not Italophone, check out Charles’s blog. Charles started drinking and collecting fine Italian wine in the late 70s and early 80s, long before the current renaissance of Italian food and wine. His insights into how the Italian wine industry has evolved over the last 40 years are invaluable.

In an unrelated story…

Is Berlusconi’s number finally up? The Italian courts have revoked his immunity.

Buona lettura!

Must love wine (music and video games) in San Jose

Above: They crowd last night was like putty in our jazz hands.

It’s still not clear to me why our manager booked us at an all-ages show at a video arcade in San Jose but he did. The other one of life’s little ironies last night was the fact that technically we were in “wine country” California (a stone’s throw from Santa Clara and Santa Cruz) and despite the abundance of wine bars revealed in a google maps search, there was very little wine I could find to drink. The venues closest to the video arcade where we played (who knew video arcades still existed?) were Barra di Vino (a would-be Italianate temple of Cabernet Sauvignon) and UnWined, a cleverly if perhaps inaptly named but clean and smart operation nonetheless.

Above: The domestic charcuterie plate at UnWined wasn’t bad and the very reasonably priced Vocoret 2006 Forêt really hit the spot.

Somehow we ended up at UnWined (don’t trust Google maps to get you there, btw) where I found an impressive list of big, bold barriqued California wines and two bottlings I could actually drink: the Vocoret 2006 Forêt Premier Cru and the Venica 2006 Collio. We opted for the former because it was already chilled since they are also currently serving it by the glass. (Check out Eric’s article on Chablis. I wish Raul at UnWined would take Eric’s advice: “Because good Chablis is subtle, it is crucial not to serve it too cold, which will mask the flavors. Barely cool is just about right.”)

Feeling compelled to drink something local, I also asked for the “least barriqued” Pinot Noir by the glass on the list and was served a Candela 2006. The staff at UnWined was very friendly and knowledgeable about the list (they told me they decant nearly every red wine served by the bottle, the “Cabs” and “Zins” needing extra time to open up, said our server).

Above: Céline Dijon (aka Verena Wiesendanger) did the dance of the Momie last night. For a change, I played Jean-Luc Retard’s (aka Dan Crane’s aka Björn Türoque’s) killer 70s-era SG instead of my John Carruthers custom Sunburst Tele with mint-green pickguard.

It was just one of those nights: the gig was strange but fun and we ended up back at the hotel drinking beers and laughing too loudly. I’m lucky to be in a band with folks whose company I really enjoy sharing. Ryan (aka Morris “Mars” Chevrolet) reminded me that — on stage and off — the music is ALWAYS fun.

You might have heard I run with a dangerous crowd
We ain’t too pretty we ain’t too proud
We might be laughing a bit too loud
But that never hurt no one

Tonight at Spaceland in LA is sure to be a fun one, too. I can’t wait to see all my old friends and be reunited with that gorgeous lady of mine.