Bobby Stuckey & Lachlan Patterson in Austin (Georgia’s first wine tasting!)

Bobby and Lachlan were in town yesterday hosting a luncheon at Vino Vino for their line of wines, Scarpetta, including their new Barbera del Monferrato, which we loved.

We’ve become friends after we traveled to Friuli together a few years ago and then Tracie P and I had one of our all-time favorite meals at their restaurant last year before Georgia P arrived.

Master Sommelier Bobby is the apotheosis of cool and the sweetest guy…

Chef Lachlan is the Indiana Jones of Italian restaurateurship in the U.S. His focus is intense but it never blurs his passion. The soulfulness of his cooking is never eclipsed by his celebrity. And yes, ladies, he’s single!

His riso adriatico was stunning. They had been in Dallas the day before and Alfonso posted on the lunch here. “One of the best meals of 2012,” Alfonso told me a voce.

Our good friend April Collins, their Texas broker and one of the most beloved wine professionals in the state, did a superb job orchestrating the event.

Georgia went to her first fancy wine tasting and luncheon! She was SO good and a lot of friends got to meet her for the first time.

All of the top Austin wine professionals were there. We’re lucky to be part of such a close-knit wine community.

An unforgettable dinner at Robert del Grande’s RDG

Next stop in our celebration of Tracie P’s birthday weekend (which, according to reports from overseas, is now considered a national holiday in the blogosphere), was one of those truly magical rooms, where my true love’s eyes seemed to sparkle from the moment the hostess said, “right this way, your table’s waiting.”

Cousins Joanne and Marty, Tracie P, and I were joined by Tracie P’s childhood friend Talina at Robert del Grande’s newish restaurant RDG in Houston. And de rigueur, we had to start off with what we all agreed is one of the best Margaritas any of us have ever had: equal parts Herradura Silver Tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice (half Persian lime, half Key lime).

Next came Gulf crab…

and beef nachos…

The seared avocado salad was purely brilliant…

Tortilla soup lifted our bright spirits even higher…

The wine list at RDG can be intimidating (and is designed for the high roller) but it also has some wonderful gems and reasonable price points, like this 2004 Deutz Blanc de Blancs. The nose on this wine was so yummy we didn’t even want to drink it! (We also had a bottle of Bobby and Lachlan’s 2008 Scarpetta Friuliano at a great price, btw.)

And the reason why RDG is worth every penny: the attention to detail and the caliber of service (3 staff members on our table) take the ineffably delicious food to yet another level of sensorial reward.

Tracie P and I will be heading out shortly for the last event in her birthday celebration. Aren’t you as glad as I am that she was born? :-)

Champers and pizza? Hell yeah!

Parzen family dinner yesterday evening at the Parzen coterie’s semi-official pizzeria Mamma Mia began with a killer bottle of Bobby Stuckey’s Scarpetta Timido Brut Rosé, made from Pinot Nero and Franconia (drinking through some of the orphans from 2Bianchi Wine Selections). This wine is just so juicy and yummy and super food friendly. It was fantastic with pizzaiolo Cinzia’s awesome panzerotti.

Next came a bottle of Billecart-Salmon that had been gifted to brother Tad for his 50th birthday (I wonder by whom?). As BrooklynGuy likes to point out, Champagne is first and foremost a wonderful food-friendly wine and this delicious bottle delivered seamlessly: the bright acidity in the mineral-rich wine and its 12% alcohol were perfect with my prosciutto e funghi.

Tracie P and I were so happy to have three uninterrupted days and nights in San Diego with family and friends. Champers and pizza was the icing on the cake!

Happy birthdays brother Tad (August 17) and mama Judy (September 22)!

Earthquake (!), pre-Prohibition cocktails and the Grapes perform tonight

Above: The pre-Prohibition cocktails at the newly opened Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego calmed my nerves after a 5.4 magnitude quake!

The San Diego Kid (that’s me) arrived in San Diego from Austin, Texas yesterday only to be greeted by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake. Having grown up here, I’m relatively accustomed to such natural occurrences but the young man helping me at the rental car desk nearly pooped in his pants. Luckily, pre-Prohibition cocktails awaited me at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego (where my friend and colleague @ChezSheila had just launched her newest project).

Above: The San Diego Kid fit right in with the Old Town 19th-century reenactors (no joke!). Note the first appearance of my Nudie boots.

If you happen to find yourself north of the border tonight, come check out the debut performance of The Grapes at one my favorite sushi destinations, Zenbu, tonight at 9. It should be quite a scene…

In other news…

The Do Bianchi Wine Selections Hard-to-Find Friuli Six-Pack is now available, featuring the wines of Scarpetta (Bobby Stuckey’s winery in northeastern Italy). Click here to read about why Tracie P and I like these wines, made by an American in Italy, so much…

Tuscan wine scandal: a producer speaks out and names a name

tuscan wine scandal

This morning over at VinoWire, Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani and I published a translation of a page from a new book on the top wines of Europe by thirty-something Italian journalist Andrea Scanzi.

Aretino-born Andrea is a certified sommelier and a popular journalist. He has written on sports, music, and wine, including Elogio dell’invecchiamento (In Praise of Aging, 2007, Mondadori), in which he chronicles his “search for the 10 best wines of Italy” according to the flap jacket copy.

His current book, Il vino degli altri (Other People’s Wines) was released with great PR fanfare during the annual Italian wine industry trade fair Vinitaly. It wasn’t intended to be a scandalous book. In fact, from what I understand (and I haven’t read the book in its entirety), the book is an attempt to contextualize the great wines of Italy within the macrocosm of their European counterparts.

But his interview with Super Tuscan producer Massimo d’Alessandro of Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro — just a few pages in the book — may represent the first instance when a prominent Tuscan winemaker has spoken on the record about last year’s Tuscan wine scandal (10 million liters of wine produced by wineries in Chianti were seized by Italian officials).

The page (131) scanned and posted by Mr. Ziliani on his blog and the subsequent response from Brancaia are remarkable because the texts shed some light, however distorted, on what has really been happening in Tuscan winemaking. Neither observers of Italian wine nor anyone who’s ever spent time with Tuscan winemakers will be surprised by the mention of a famous Tuscan enologist — the first time, to my knowledge, that anyone has mentioned his name on record (even though, off the record, many Tuscan wine professionals will point to this gentleman as the architect of the region’s current ills).

Click here to read my translation and the response from Brancaia at VinoWire.

In other news…

sweet peas

Tracie P only begins to bring home tomatoes when they start to come back into season with warmer temperatures (no “winter” greenhouse tomatoes allowed zum Parzen!). Last night we had a delightfully light supper of bruschette rubbed with garlic, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil (San Giuliano, Alghero, Sardinia), and topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. She also gently sautéed some springtime sweet peas with country ham. The 2008 Pinot Grigio (Friuli) by Scarpetta (Bobby Stuckey’s label, under $20) paired beautifully, especially as it warmed up a little (when too cold, it’s as if you’re only drinking half of the flavor of this wine).

Happy springtime, everyone! :-)

A killer Tocai (and a new system for wine ratings?)

Above: Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier and probably the nicest guy I’ve met in the world of fine wine and dining. He came to Austin recently to show the new vintages of his killer wines from Friuli.

“We’re not making a lot of wine,” said Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, when he showed his Scarpetta Pinot Grigio and Tocai Friulano from Friuli in Austin the other day to a group of Texas wine professionals. “But Texas stepped up to the plate with our 2006 and so we’re going to give you an allocation even though there’s not a lot to go around.”

As Willie Nelson once wrote, “Miracles appear in the strangest of places”: you wouldn’t expect to find small-production wines like these in Central Texas but I’m finding more and more that the Texan style and passion for great food and wine brings some of the brightest and the best out to see us.

Above: The pig on the label of Bobby and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s Scarpetta is inspired by their love of Prosciutto di San Daniele. The name “scarpetta” comes from the Italian word for “sopping up leftover sauce from your plate.”

I liked Bobby’s 2007 Pinot Grigio a lot: bright acidity, freshness, and nice fruit, with balanced minerality. A totally clean wine, easy to drink, a great quaffing wine.

But I REALLY DUG the Tocai Friulano: while the Pinot Grigio is aged in stainless steel, the Tocai, Bobby told me, is aged in botti, large old oak casks — totally old school, the way I like it. This wine had the richness and grassy notes that I love in traditional style Tocai and I’m totally geeked that it will be coming to Texas (at under-$20 retail, I was told). I can’t wait for Tracie B to taste it.

Btw, even though the EU prohibits Italians from writing Tocai on the label, I still can’t help myself from calling it Tocai. Surprisingly, the new requirement to call it Friuliano has resulted in an increase in sales, as Franco and I reported earlier this year at VinoWire. (In 2007, in decision in a complaint by Hugarian producers of Tokaj, the EU constitutional court prohibited Italian producers from using Tocai on bottles sold outside Italy.)

I also liked what Bobby had to say about it: “I wanted a wild beast, not a lap dog in a Gucci bag.”

Bobby is part of an expanding group of master sommeliers who are making wines or consulting with winemakers, approaching them from the perspective of the restaurateur rather than the trophy wine seeker.

In other news…

We tasted some great Italian wines last night at my sold-out Italian 101 seminar at The Austin Wine Merchant. Participant Pat Kelly posted this nice review at her blog.

And our new friend Mary Gordon surprised me by showing up after she snagged one of the waiting-list spots.

During the tasting, I realized that I, too, am guilty of using a de facto rating system: I found myself calling a grapy, easy-to-drink Montepulciano d’Abruzzo a “Wednesday night wine,” an elegantly tannic Rosso di Montalcino a “Friday night wine,” and when we tasted a rich, earthy Aglianico, Mary Gordon asked, “what night of the week is this wine?” Another participant chimed in, to the amusement and agreement of all, without skipping a beat: “Definitely a Saturday night wine!”

Next Tuesday’s Tuscany class is already sold-out but there are still some spots available in later sessions. Click here for the full schedule.

Mmmmm… tonight is Wednesday night. I wonder what Tracie B and will drink… ;-)