Xmas eve gumbo and Prosecco

Took a week-long break from work and blogging over the Xmas-NYE holiday but now I’m back! Where do I begin… to tell the story of how great a love can be? Buon 2011 ya’ll!

Uncle Tim’s Christmas eve gumbo, made with his housemade deer sausage. Note how the potato salad is served in the gumbo. That gumbo alone was worth the 4.5 hour drive through the heavy rains that fell that night on Hwy 290 and I-10. A delicious reward at the end of a white-knuckle road!

Tracie P and I had been saving a flight of Adami Prosecco (sent to us as samples) just for the occasion. Great pairing and a super fun Christmas eve in Orange in East Texas, on the Louisiana border.

Wouldn’t be Xmas without Prosecco, Produttori, and Pandoro


The Do Bianchi Christmas Six-Pack offering is live at 2Bianchi.com (my wine club for California residents).

This month’s offering features Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede by Bisol. That’s Matteo Bisol atop the Cartizze cru in Valdobbiadene in a photo I snapped back in April 2008.

Veneto woman

Using my camera, I “grabbed” this image of a “Veneto costume” from a poster at Matteo’s family winery.

There’s lots of good stuff in this month’s offering and gift ideas as well, including magnums of 06 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco.

After all, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Prosecco, Produttori, and Pandoro, now, would it? ;-)


A new Prosecco category emerges: colfòndo

Above: Costadilà is a member of new group of winemakers who make “Prosecco colfòndo.” Note the sediment at the bottom of the bottle (photo taken on our dining room table).

Thrilling news of a new group of Prosecco producers who make their wines colfòndo (con il fondo, i.e., aged on their lees and thus with sediment) came to my attention via Mr. Franco Ziliani’s brand spanking new blog devoted to the world of Italian sparkling wines, Le Mille Bolle (A Thousand Bubbles).

In many ways, Prosecco is the wine that started it all for me so many years ago when I started writing about wine. Back in 1998 when I got my first gig as an enojournalist, it was with a feature story on Prosecco. I know the appellation well because I spent three summers touring the provinces of Treviso and Belluno with a cover band.

To my palate, lees-aged Prosecco is the real Prosecco (not the yeasted banana candy crap that we see too often in this country). Lees-aging gives the wine the saltiness that makes Prosecco raised in Valdobbiadene stand apart from the crowd. I love it and am dying to taste more.

Above: That’s me in the middle rehearsing in the famous Birreria at Pedavena where we played 4 sets a night, 3 nights a week (no kidding). I was in my 20s and the music and beer (often unpasteurized, btw) flowed all night long. How do you like the hair?

Dulcis in fundo (pun intended): one of the producers, Riccardo Zanotto, used to come hear us play back in the day and we shared more than one beer together…

Che bei ricordi! What great memories of rock ‘n’ roll with the Dolomites as our stage and salty, gritty, utterly delicious Prosecco!

A favorite Prosecco and Panzanella del Prete

Yesterday evening, before heading out to see our friends play music in Bird Rock (La Jolla), Tracie P and I were the guests of the Reynolds, who live in the house where I spent my childhood years.

Mrs. Reynolds made a fantastic dish that I’d never had before, panzanella del prete (above), the priest’s panzanella, a “rich” version of the classic Tuscan dish of summer, panzanella, a summer salad made with leftover saltless Tuscan bread and chopped summer vegetables and herbs (basil, tomato, cucumber, red onion, etc.).

Mrs. Reynolds even baked the Tuscan bread herself, using a Marcella Hazan recipe. Her panzanella del prete (a traditional dish of Garfagnana, northwest Tuscany) had olive-oil packed tuna and blanched carrots, and tomatoes and thyme grown in her garden. Utterly delicious…

We paired the dish with what has become my favorite wine of the summer, the best Prosecco (IMHO) that you can buy in the U.S., Costadilà.

Made with ambient yeast, fermented in bottle, and aged on its lees (with no filtering), Costadilà Prosecco is the type of Prosecco I would drink when I was living and playing music in the province of Belluno during graduate-school summers. Each year, I’d drive down to visit with Nico Naldini (Pasolini’s cousin and collaborator) down in Solighetto in the heart of Prosecco country.

This wine isn’t for everyone: it’s cloudy and crunchy, salty and gritty… and man, it is UNBELIEVABLY good…

Dulcis in fundo…

I love seeing all my high school friends, like Michael Kornberg (left) and Andrew Harvey, who brought his baby girl to his gig last night. Andrew is a fantastic drummer (he plays with me in the Grapes, too).

The baby fever going around is contagious!

Champagne by any other name…

From the semiotics department…


Above: A few weeks ago, Tracie B and I attended a “Champagne Party” in south Austin hosted by wine collectors.

Champagne is a place (a province of eastern France).

Champagne is an adjective, “something exhilarating, excellent” (“It was of the two Lytteltons, Alfred and Edward, that the phrase ‘the champagne of cricket’, was first used,” 1928, OED online edition). Champagne is a color.

Champagne is also a compound attributive adjective: you can have “champagne” tastes; you can be a “champagne” socialist (I, for one, certainly am one, although I prefer Brunello socialist); you can even have a “champagne” cocktail.

Champagne is also a wine — a sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne, twice-fermented in bottle.


Above: It was like a scene from Man Bites Dog when fellow Austinite blogger Alcoholian and I faced off with our cameras at the Champagne party. Meta-blogging at its best!

Champagne perhaps more than any other wine (with Bordeaux a distant second) evokes an ethos, a zeitgeist, an aura, a sentiment, a sensation, a sensual experience…

On any given day, you will find at least three bottles of wine in my refrigerator: a bottle of Prosecco, a bottle of Moscato d’Asti, and a bottle of Champagne. The Prosecco for celebration and/or a great pairing for a small plates dinner (cicchetti). The Moscato d’Asti, with its low alcohol and bright fruit flavors and residual sugar, a great brunch wine, a great a-friend-just-dropped-in wine, a great wine to pair with fresh fruit. But the Champagne? When it comes to a truly special occasion, I wish for no other wine to grace the palate of my beautiful Tracie B than Champagne. Is there any other wine where refinement and elegance meet power and structure as in Champagne? Is it just the ethos behind the wine that inspires this reverence in me?

Today, I’ll leave the technical discussion of Champagne to Eric and BrooklynGuy (I highly recommend both posts, the one on some great grower-producers, the other on varietal expression in Champagne).

I’ll just invite you to consider the word… say it aloud, roll it around your mouth… think of the imagery and ethos it evokes… Champagne… the very word titillates the senses, no? Champagne by any other name just wouldn’t be the same, would it?

Tracie B and I will be opening a Champagne on New Year’s Eve this year but we haven’t decided which one. What’s your “best Champagne” pick?

More tomorrow…

In other news… There is a G-d!


Yesterday, Tracie B and I stopped in Houston on our way back to Austin from Orange, Texas and had lunch at Kenny and Ziggy’s Delicatessen. The day I decided to leave New York City, I had resigned myself to never eating great smoked fish and pastrami again (at least, not on a daily basis). But, man, let me tell you: the pastrami at Kenny and Ziggy’s ranks right up there with Barney Greengrass and Katz’s.

I never thought I’d utter the words, “there IS great deli outside of New York.”

Who knew?

RN74’s house-made Pimm’s at TexSom

Above: Dallas native D’Lynn Proctor is one of the top sommeliers in the state of Texas.

Yesterday found me and Italian Wine Guy attending seminars at the excellent TexSom conference (held this year in Dallas). In its fifth year, the conference draws some of the country’s best and brightest wine personalities and features seminars and guided tastings with leading celebrity Master Sommeliers. MS Brian Conin led a lively aperitif tasting that included a sip of the house-made Pimm’s produced by RN74 in San Francisco.

Above: Brian served the RN74 Pimm’s mixed with ginger beer yesterday but explained that Prosecco is mixed, together with the ginger beer, in the RN74 “Pimm’s Cup” in San Francisco.

During the spirited (pun intended) exchange from the floor during the question-and-answer period, the ever-affable Bartholomew Broadbent chimed in with an ad hoc lecture on the traditional Pimm’s Cup and its significance in British culture.

A taste of genuine collegiality among wine professionals, some downright fun, and a Pimm’s cup (however experimental) sure can do a body good!

Some of the more beautiful things I saw in Italy

The caliber of my photography never rises above the amateur (in the etymologic sense of the word) but sometimes I get lucky. I guess it’s about place and time.

Tasting with the Marquis Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga at the Tenuta San Leonardo in Trentino. I was moved at the thought of shaking the hand of a descendant of one of the most influential families of the Northern Italian Renaissance.

I photographed this bee at the highest point in Cartizze, the top growing site for Prosecco. Matteo Bisol of the Bisol winery opened his family’s Prosecco Cartizze and we tasted it right there among the vines. It was fun to return to Valdobbiadene where I spent so much time during the summers of years at university in Italy.

The baroque basilica at the Abbazia di Novacella was most impressive. That was the farthest north I’ve ever traveled in Italy. Driving through the Alps, I couldn’t help but think of the line from Petrarch canzone 128:

    Nature provided well for our safety when she put the shield of the Alps between us and the Teutonic rage.

The incipit of the song is one of Petrarch’s most moving and appeals to the then divided and bellicose Italian states:

    My Italy, although speech does not aid those mortal wounds of which in your lovely body I see so many, I wish at least my sighs to be such as Tiber and Arno hope for, and Po where I now sit sorrowful and sad. (translation by Robert Durling)

I’ve been traveling to Italy for more than twenty years and as in years past, I took time to catch up on my newspaper reading and to ask people about their outlook for the future. In my view, the Italians’ “tenuous sense of nationhood” seems more fragile than ever (between the jockeying of Berlusconi, Fini, and Bossi) and the balance of Po, Tiber, and Arno all the more precarious.

But the beauty of this country has always been accompanied by peril — the one seemingly unable to exist without the other.

I’ll begin posting about my trip and other developments next week. Stay tuned and thanks for reading…

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