Amphora-aged Primitivo, pozoles and old Rioja, and a Texas wine I liked

Above: This week, Tracie B and I attended our first holiday party of the year at the home of Texas “natural treasure,” author, radio personality, blogger and all-around delightful host, Mary Gordon Spence.

Man, has it been a crazy week — between work, Tignanello triage, the new Amarone DOCG, and the holidays upon us!

Above: Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely eat sweets. But homemade flan? Mary Gordon found my weakness!

Tracie B and I are headed to La Jolla for the weekend, a good thing since snow is expected today in Central Texas!

I’m working on my “interesting wines coming out of Tuscany these days” post and I received a lot of great recommendations from a bunch of Italian wine professionals and bloggers. Thank you, all. I’ll post them next week.

Above: George O brought this bottle of what I’m guessing is a dried-grape red wine from the Texas Hill Country made by Tony Coturri at the La Cruz de Comal winery. It was a great pairing for the flan.

If you haven’t seen it already, please check out this wonderful post authored by Franco (and translated by yours truly) on the amphora wines made by Vittorio Pichierri in Sava (Manduria, Apulia). Amphora wine is all the rage these days. Gravner started making wine in amphora in the late 1990s? Pichierri has been aging his wines in interred amphora since the 1970s and beyond (he uses an ancient format called capasone).

Above: We were joined by the inimitable Bill Head, whose tall Texas tales alone are worth the price of admission (seated next to Tracie B), his lovely SO Patricia, and George O. Jackson (right), photographer and author of a photo collection I am dying to see, Essence of Mexico 1990-2002, images of folklore he captured traveling through rural Mexico.

Dinner at Mary Gordon’s was just the excuse I’d been waiting for to open some older López de Heredia that a client gave me. The 1990 Tondonia white was stunning, as was the 1991 Bosconia. We opened both bottles as we sat in Mary Gordon’s living room and munched on jícama and chips and salsa: I couldn’t help but think about how great these oxidative wines are with food. The 2000 Bosconia Reserva was great with Mary Gordon’s excellent pozoles.

The conversation turned from tales of larger-than-life Charlie Wilson from Bill’s years in Washington to Mary Gordon’s memories of working for President Lyndon B. Johnson, to George O’s adventures in rural Mexico. I spent the whole evening on the edge of my seat. Maybe it’s because I live here now but it always impresses me how Texas often finds itself at the center of the American collective consciousness and American iconography.

Thanks again, Mary Gordon, for such a wonderful evening! And happy holidays to all ya’ll!

The “intense delicacy” of the last of the Mohicans in Texas


Tasting through the current releases of López de Heredia the other day in Austin made me feel like Big Joe Turner’s Mississippi bullfrog in “Flip, Flop, and Fly”: I’m like a Mississippi bullfrog sittin’ on a hollow stump/I got so many good bottles of wine, I don’t know which way to jump.

I was thrilled to see that the wines have returned to Texas, in the hands of a smaller distributor who seems to be treating the bottlings with the respect and care they deserve.

My friend Alice Feiring put it best when she wrote about the “intense delicacy” of these wines, using a Petrarchesque oxymoron. They are at once intensely aromatic and flavorful but show that unbearable lightness that I find so alluring in great wine.

Some of the most inspired prose in Alice’s The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization is devoted to the López de Heredia winery. But it was owner Maria José López de Heredia who called the winery the “last of the Mohicans”:

    When López de Heredia buckles — if ever — that style of wine is gone and cannot be replaced. I asked Maria José, “Are you sad about the way things are going right now?” Her answer shocked me. “Wine has been worse in Rioja. It’s not so bad now. There are good wines being made, but we are ‘the last of the Mohicans,'” she said, with tremendous pride. She actually liked being the last one.

I love the wines of López de Heredia and try to taste and enjoy them at any chance I get.

The 1989 Tondonia white was showing beautifully, even if it inspired a lively debate among the wine professionals gathered that day as to whether it was “off” or not. (“The release of a López de Herdia white,” writes Alice, “is always a love-it-or-hate-it affair. No matter what a drinker’s preferences, the wine always gets attention.”) I’ve tasted that wine maybe 10 times over the last year and I think that the bottle we tasted was right on.

I was also really impressed with the entry-level 2003 Cubillo (red), which showed uncommon grace for this wine. The 1991 Tondonia and Bosconia (reds) were simply stunning.

The wines won’t be an easy sell here in Texas (nor are they anywhere, for that matter). Their oxidative nature can be a turn-off for a lot of folks. But I’m so glad that they’ve returned to Texas. Tracie B and I will be drinking them for sure!

In other news…

Austin wine writer Wes Marshall reviewed Kermit’s CD today and previewed his listening party Monday November 9 here in town at Vino Vino (yours truly will be presenting Kermit and his producer Ricky Fataar). I haven’t been playing music professionally since Nous Non Plus’s last show in LA in May: I’ve been having a blast promoting this show and I love that feeling of filling a room. I hear there are just a few seats left! ;-)

Breaking (good) news: Antinori’s 03 Brunello released by Italian authorities

It’s not entirely clear what went on “behind the scenes” but Marchesi Antinori has become the first Brunello producer — of the 5 officially known to be suspected of adulteration — to announce that its 2003 Brunello will be available for sale as early as next week. Read the whole story at VinoWire.

Although the question of when Brunello producers will be given “guarantee” letters by the Italian government remains unclear (nor is it clear which arm of the government will issue said letter, now required by the U.S. government for Brunello imports), the news of Antinori’s green light seems to be a very positive step in the right direction.

I, for one, am very relieved to see that the Brunello controversy is beginning to subside and I look forward to drinking 03 Brunello by all of my favorite producers.

In other news…

Above: Grilled Mahi Mahi tacos and 1989 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia at my favorite taco shack, Bahia Don Bravo, in Bird Rock (La Jolla), CA. Click on image for centerfold.

I finally convinced my favorite taco shack to let me bring my own wine: last night Irwin and I opened 1989 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia (white) with our grilled Mahi Mahi tacos. Irwin was really blown away by the Lopez de Heredia, noting that “there’s nothing about this wine that I don’t like.” It was showing very well, with nice acidity, nuanced fruit, and judicious alcohol — perfectly balanced.

Bahia was packed last night and we were lucky to find a table for two. Irwin really dug the Viña Tondonia, saying that it was “the best white wine I’ve ever had.” I have to say that it is one of my all-time best white wines, too.

We also drank a 2003 Vignalta Gemola, a Bordeaux-style blend made in the Euganean Hills outside Padua, where Petrarch spent the last years of his life compiling and editing his life’s work. It didn’t show as well as other bottles I’ve opened.

Bahia Don Bravo
5504 La Jolla Blvd
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-8940