Clos Cibonne & fried green tomatoes, a sublime pairing (TY @RandallGrahm)

“What would Freud say if he were alive today?” goes the set-up for a joke by one of my favorite Italian comedians, Alessandro Bergonzoni. The punchline: “I sure have lived a long life.”

In my own jejune stab at comedy, I ask: is it a stretch for me to call a pairing of Clos Cibonne oxidative rosé from Tibouren and fried green tomatoes sublime? What would Longinus say if he were alive today? There’s no doubt in my mind that he’d answer: “I sure have lived a Longinus life.”

In many ways, the thought of pairing this fantastic old world wine — made in large, old casks using film-forming yeasts — with a staple of East Texas cooking seems a stretch. But at the same time, no two notions could be more aligned: the sweet and sour flavors of summer (via our CSA and Grandma Georgia’s cast-iron skillet) plucked our palates in perfect harmony with the marine notes of this quintessentially Provençal wine.

The master of paronomasia (“waiting for Godello”) Randall Grahm first turned me on to this wine over lunch in Los Angeles last year and when I saw it in our market here in Austin, I grabbed as many bottles as I could and ran right home to Tracie P (whom, I knew, would love this wine).

When she breads and fries summer tomatoes in Georgia P’s namesake’s cast-iron skillet, the centers of the rounds become gelatinous and when you bite into them, summer wraps around your tongue. The dry flavors of the Tibouren rosé were the perfect counterpoint.

Thank you, again, Randall, and thank you, Longinus, for giving us the sublime!

It is a law of Nature that in all things there are certain constituent parts, coexistent with their substance. It necessarily follows, therefore, that one cause of sublimity is the choice of the most striking circumstances involved in whatever we are describing, and, further, the power of afterwards combining them into one animate whole. The reader is attracted partly by the selection of the incidents, partly by the skill which has welded them together. For instance, Sappho, in dealing with the passionate manifestations attending on the frenzy of lovers, always chooses her strokes from the signs which she has observed to be actually exhibited in such cases. But her peculiar excellence lies in the felicity with which she chooses and unites together the most striking and powerful features.

—[Pseudo-]Longinus, On the Sublime

Our date with Willy Wonka: a staff training with the inimitable Randall Grahm

From the department of “so many great wines and so many great people and so little time”…

One of the best things about what I do for a living is the great wines I get to taste and the fascinating people I get to meet. And one of the most rewarding things about my career is getting to share those wines and those experiences with people I care about.

All of these elements came together week before last when the inimitable Randall Grahm — the Willy Wonka of wine in my view — graciously agreed to do a staff training with the servers at Sotto in Los Angeles where I curate the wine list.

When you work so closely with people as you do on the floor of a restaurant (often in extremely stressful situations), you develop a unique bond with them. And I was thrilled that Randall agreed to come talk to us and sprinkle some of his magic dust on us.

Of all the winemakers I’ve ever met, Randall — a polite and warm man — is perhaps the most erudite. I love the fact that he shares my love of words (philology!) and describes wines in terms of antipodian and podian (his neologism?). I love that he doesn’t mince words (I cannot repeat what he had to say about one antipodian wine). And I love his lyrical approach to describing winemaking and wine. At one point, when I asked him to address reduction in wine and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing. He replied using the follow simile: “Reduction is kind of like the male sex drive,” he said. “It can be ugly but it lets us know that everything’s working correctly and that the wine is alive.” (Reduction can be caused by wine being stored without any contact with oxygen, often the case with screw-cap wines. As a result, the wine may stink briefly when first opened. For the best definition of reduction in wine, see the entry on Jancis’s site — well worth the subscription fee, btw — or see her Oxford Companion to Wine.)

On the edges of our seats, the staff and I were entirely captivated by Randall’s spiel on the spectrum of organic, biodynamic, and Natural winemaking. And we tasted his Syrah Le Posseur together (by the glass at Sotto these days). Le posseur, the pusher in French, was inspired by the way great Syrah is like drug dealer who tempts you with his assortment of aromas and flavors. I love the analogy and I love the affordable and delicious wine (it only gets better with a day’s aeration, btw).

But dulcis in fundo, Randall also shared with us his new hope and faith in biochar — a newly developed form of charcoal that is used to restore balance to the soil. We live in such precarious times, these days (o tempora o mores!). “It is the future,” he said, referring not only to winemaking but also the survival of humankind.

Looking back on our encounter with the ineffably charming Randall, I cannot help but be reminded of the lyrics of one of favorite songs — from childhood to the present day.

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Wanta change the world?
There’s nothing
To it…

Historically and with seemingly quotidian recurrence, Randall seems to seek and find beauty in the world around and in us, too.

This is one of my all-time favorite songs and cinematic moments. I’ll never forget seeing it for the first time and the emotion that filled my chest. It happens, to this very day, every single time…

Clarine Farm 2010 White Wine fanfreakin’ delicious (and an amazing white blend from Amalfi)

After my shift was done at Sotto last night, I sat down with my good buddy (man, we go WAY back) Nieves and shared a bottle of Hank Beckmeyer’s 2010 Clarine Farm White Wine (Rhône white blend) and a couple of margherite (mine spiked with salt-cured anchovies).

People, I’m here to tell you that this wine is fanfreakin’ delicious, with crazy white and citrus fruit notes, sexy acidity, and a delightfully crunchy mouthfeel. And the best part? Drink this indisputably Natural wine and you will poop well the next day (I am living proof).

In other news…

It’s not on my list at the restaurant but I was blown away by this classic white blend from Amalfi — Falanghina, Biancolella, and Pepella — poured for me by importer Caroline Debbane: Costa d’Amalfi Tramonti 2009 by Tenuta San Francesco. Great freshness, nervy acidity, and gorgeous fruit. Loved this wine…

That’s all I have time to recount today… running out the door to make a staff training with the inimitable Randall Grahm who’s visiting with the waitstaff this afternoon. He is such an unbelievably cool dude and I’m utterly psyched and honored to get to hang with him! (We’re featuring his Syrah by the glass, starting tonight at Sotto.)

Recioto, Maffei, and Cassiodorus: the Italian text

Above: Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei, 18th-century archeologist, historian, art historian, and philologist (image via Michael Finney Antique Books and Prints).

Over the last few days, a number of people have retweeted my translation of Cassiodorus on Recioto della Valpolicella (Acinaticum) via Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei (thank you Melissa, Raelinn, Randall, Meg, Lizzy, and Juel).

And yesterday, Italy’s A-number-1 wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani, graciously and generously included it in his weekly wine blogging roundup for the Italian Sommelier Association.

In my initial post, I included my translation of the Cassiodorus text into English along with the original Latin.

Today, for Italian readers, I’m posting the Italian text, transcribed from Maffei’s Verona Illustrata (Verona Illustrated, originally published in 1731-32 in Verona).

If only I had time (and the financial resources) to devote myself full-time to my philological pursuits! Magari! For the time being, my enophilological research has to take a backseat to earthly necessities. It means SO MUCH to me when people enjoy these posts. THANK YOU one and all!

Here’s the text. Buona lettura! (Click here for my English translation.)


“Non è da tralasciare la distinta memoria di due vini veronesi che ci ha conservata Cassiodoro, scrivendo a colui, che avea cura in queste parti delle contribuzioni fiscali a tempo di Teodorico. Dopo aver premesso, doversi per la Regia mensa far venire d’ogni parte le più rare cose, così proseguisce: ‘e perciò son da procurare i vini, che la feconda Italia singolarmente produce, accioché non paia aver noi trascurate le cose proprie, quando cercar dobbiamo anche le straniere… Spezie di vino veramente degna che se ne vanti l’Italia: imperciocché se bene l’ingegnosa Grecia, di varie e fine diligenze lodata, e condisce i vini suoi con gli odori, o con marine mischianze dà lor sapore, niente ha però di così squisito… il vino Acinatico, che da gli acini ha il nome… Questo è puro, per sapor singolare, Regio per colore; talché o ne’ suoi fonti possa tu creder tinta la porpora, o dalla porpora espresso il liquor suo. La dolcezza in esso si sente con soavità incredibile, si corrobora la densità per non so qual fermezza, e s’ingrossa al tatto in modo, che diresti esser un liquido carnoso, o una bevanda da mangiare… Vogliam riferire quanto particular sia il modo di farlo. Scelta nell’Autunno l’uva dalle viti delle domestiche pergole, sospendesi rivoltata, conservasi ne’ vasi suoi, e negli ordinari repositori si custodisce. S’indura dal tempo, non si liquida: trasudando allora gl’insulsi umori, soavemente addolciscesi. Tirasi fino al mese di Decembre [sic], finché l’inverno la faccia scorrere, e con maraviglia cominci il vino a esser nuovo, avendo in tutte le cantine si trova già vecchio. Mosto invernale, freddo sangue dell’uve, liquor sanguigno, porpora bevibile, violato nettare. Cessa di bollire nella sua prima origine, e quando può farsi adulto, comincia a parere per sempre nuovo. Non si percuote inguirosamente con calci l’uva, né con mischiarvi sordidezza alcuna s’infosca; ma vien’eccitata come alla nobiltà si conviene. Scorre, quando l’acqua indurisce, è feconda, quando ogni frutto de’ campi è svanito, stilla dagli occhi suoi liquor corrispondente, lagrima non so che di giocondo ed oltre al piacer del dolce, singolare è nella vista la sua bellezza'”.