1968 Monfortino I need say no more

From the “life could be worse” department…

The other night found me and Tracie B in the home of our dear friend Alfonso, who treated us to one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever drunk in my life: 1968 Barolo Monfortino by Giacomo Conterno (steaks by Alfonso, photo by Tracie B). It was one of those truly life-changing wines, a miracle in a bottle and a wonder in the glass, at once light and lithe, powerful and awesome. I’ve tasted — tasted, mind you, not drunk — 55, 58, 61, and 71 (some of the greatest years for Langa in the 20th century). Martinelli calls the 1968 harvest “good” (not great) and the wine did have some vegetal notes that I believe were product of the vintage. But quality of the materia prima (there is superb fruit in nearly every vintage, sometimes less of it than more) and the winemaking approach (aged 10 years in botti before bottling according to the back label!) made for a wine that I will never forget.

Need I say more? Check out Tracie B’s tasting notes.

Carissimo Alfonso, grazie per una serata indimenticabile!

In other news…

The other day at Bistro Vatel in San Antonio, I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve had since I moved to Texas (save for daily dining chez Tracie B!). Owner Damien Vatel is a descendant of legendary 17th-century French chef François Vatel.

The resulting photography is pretty darn sexy, if I do say so myself.

In other other news…

I’d like to mention two series of ampelographic posts that I’ve been following: the one by Alessandro Bindocci at Montalcino Report, who asks “Is Sangiovese Grosso really Grosso?” and the other by Susannah Gold at Avvinare, who is writing an English-language dictionary of Italian grape varieties.

Yesterday’s Wine: Merle Haggard

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here.
This is a hangout of mine.
We come here quite often and listen to music
Partaking of yesterday’s wine.

(from “Yesterday’s Wine,” written by Willie Nelson, performed by George Jones and Merle Haggard as a duet, and by Willie Nelson)

Above: The inimitable Merle Haggard at the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday night. Tracie B surprised me with tickets!

With the awesome show we saw on Wednesday night in Austin, Tracie B and I have fulfilled two panels in our “Yesterday’s Wine” triptych, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Merle Haggard (we saw Willie in October and so we’re just missing George Jones now). We had a blast: he played a lot of the hits, including “Okie from Muskogee,” “I Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink,” “If We Make It through December,” and “Are the Good Times Really Over.” It was amazing to think about how apropos the latter two are today, with the economy in tatters and the future uncertain:

    I wish coke was still cola,
    And a joint was a bad place to be.
    And it was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV.
    Before microwave ovens,
    When a girl could still cook and still would.
    Is the best of the free life behind us now?
    Are the good times really over for good?

    Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell?
    With no kind of chance for the Flag or the Liberty bell.

Above: Isn’t she a doll?

In other news…

I had some of the best ragù (not counting Tracie B’s) I’ve had in a long time at Samson’s in McKinney (north Dallas) where I was traveling for work. Served over potato gnocchi, it had just the right consistency and balance of sweet, savory, and fatty flavors. Chefs and brothers Samuele Minin (who makes the gnocchi) and Germano Minin (who makes the ragù) are from Udine (Friuli) and they really know what they’re doing. Paired wonderfully with 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, which is simply singing right now. Life could be worse… especially when you’re on the company dime!

Oops I did it again: pizza and Bertani 1988 Amarone!

Oh baby
It might seem like a crush
But it doesn’t mean that I’m serious
‘Cause to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Oh baby, baby

Above: Charles Scicolone can often be found at La Pizza Fresca in Gramercy (Manhattan), where they allow wine luminaries to bring their own bottles. The list there leans heavily toward modern and the prices are prohibitive. The pizza is good (although not as good as the pizza I recently tasted in San Antonio! I’ll be posting on that shortly so stay tuned).

Franco is going to kill me. I did it again: while Tracie B and I were in Manhattan for the last show in the NN+ tourette a few weeks ago, I paired pizza with an absolutely, undeniably, unquestionably, and egregiously inappropriate wine.

Two inappropriate wines, actually: Bertani 1988 (yes, 88!) Amarone and Cantalupo 1996 Ghemme Collis Breclemae (above).

One of the most important things I learned in college (and one of my favorite mottoes) was “This statement is false.” (It is a classic example of the Russel paradox. The other important thing I learned was that no movie is set in the future: “If the story has been told,” film professor Tinazzi used to say in Padua, “then it has already happened.”)

Above: Charles always orders the Margherita but I am always partial to the Puttanesca there. I never ate anchovies on my pizza until a pizzaiolo wrote the name of my band using anchovies on a pizza many years ago when I was on a summer tour in the Dolomites playing cover tunes (yes, I toured in a cover band in Italy). Evidently, Elvis Presley used to eat salt-cured anchovy fillets to soothe his throat while on tour.

What bearing does the above have on the present post, you ask? In the wake of the brouhaha that followed Dr. V’s post in which he quoted me as saying pizza could not be paired with wine, and my subsequent apologia pasoliniana, I feel compelled to confess that what I did was wrong: one should never pair two such elegant wines with the acidity and saltiness, not to mention the high temperatures, of pizza. At the same time, and here’s where the paradox kicks in, the experience was decadent, sumptuous, utterly delicious, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Above: Tracie B had a pizza bianca with broccoli raab. Also in attendance were friends Frank Butler (who generously brought the Bertani) and Michele Scicolone, who recently launched her excellent blog (definitely worth adding to your feed if only for the recipes that she shares). Charles has also become an avid blogger and I’ve been enjoying his blog and Facebook as well.

Charles’s 1996 Ghemme was earthy and had a crazy eucalyptus note, still very powerful and young, an amazing expression of Nebbiolo (and very definitely Piedmontese despite what Henri Vasnier said the other day on Brooklynguy’s blog). I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the years and it is just beginning to come into its own.

The 1988 Bertani was sublime: a great vintage by one of the appellation’s greatest producers, very traditional in style, powerful and rich, yet already attaining the ineffable lightness that Amarone begins to achieve in its late adolescence.

Were these wines wasted by a paradoxical pairing? In other words, did we ruin the wines by pairing them with foods that detracted from their aromas and flavors? My feeling is that no, we did not: we experienced them in a new and different way than their traditional pairings. After all, the traditional pairing for an Amarone like that is pastissada de caval, horse meat stewed until stringy in red wine. Where would one find a horse to eat in Manhattan?

Oops, I did it again… Thanks Frank and Charles for bringing such incredible wines!

In other news…

If you’re into Loire and Chenin Blanc, check out Tracie B’s post on our visit to Chaume and her take on Chaume vs. Sauternes.

One night in Paris with Alice

Above: Alice F and Tracie B, two of my favorite ladies, and I went natural-winebar-hopping the other night in Paris.

If you ever get a chance to go natural-winebar-hopping in Paris — where many believe the winebar concept and the natural winebar were born — with the leading lady of natural wine writing, Alice Feiring, go for it. In perhaps the only city on earth where the maître d’s are ruder than the hosts at Babbo or Sparks Steakhouse, Alice your-table-is-waiting-right-this-way Feiring, Tracie B, and I ended up at Racines in the picturesque Passage des Panoramas at the end of the night a few weeks ago while we were in town for gigs with NN+.

Above: The first wine we drank at Racines was this entirely stinky, cloudy, dirty, oxidized Chenin Blanc by winemaker Eric Callcut, who calls it “The Picrate,” which I imagine is a reference to the picric acid. I imagine that picrate tastes like saltpeter since it is used in explosives but I didn’t get a gunpowdery note on this wine. Thoughts?

Between her popular blog Appellation Feiring and her wine-memoir/manifesto The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, there is no denying that Alice is one of the wine writing world’s boldface names — whether you agree with her radical positions or you find yourself diametrically opposed to them (there’s really no middle ground with her, which is something we all love about her). But in Paris, she is considered a primissima donna and Tracie B and I were thrilled to be her companions: the toast of the Parisian natural wine circuit seemed to bow before her as if in audience with the queen.

Above: The charismatic owner, Pierre, already enjoyed quite a following even before Food & Wine called Racines “Paris’s hottest winebar.”

As it turns out, owner Pierre Jancou’s family is from Modena, where I taught for a summer many, many moons ago for U.C.L.A. When we discovered our Emilian connection, he insisted that we taste Donato Camilli Lambrusco, which was fantastic — bright with acidity but light in the mouth. Even though we savored the minerality in every last drop of the Chenin Blanc (The Picrate, above), we agreed that the Lambrusco was the wine of the night. (Franco, I know… I know… I’m the only dude who drinks Lambrusco in Paris. That’s HOW much I love Italian wine!)

Pierre is not the only one at his restaurant that speaks Italian with an Emilian accent. His charcuterie speaks Emilian dialect, too, and the lardo melted sumptuously in the mouth, with the natural fruit of the Lambrusco slicing through its liquid fat like a serrated ravioli cutter on a Sunday morning. I ate blood pudding (below) and beets as my main course (just to keep things light). Tracie B and Alice split the sole, which was also excellent if pricey.

Above: The artisanal and natural qualities of Pierre’s food really stood out in the blood pudding and beets. His radically natural ingredients brought a balance and lightness to a dish you would otherwise expect to be gut-splittingly heavy. I ate every last morsel.

For someone who once performed “One Night in Paris” at the Paris Paris nightclub in Paris (yes, it’s true), this was one night in Paris that I will never forget.

Natural Lambrusco in Paris (and late for sound check)


We’re on our way to sound check (and I’m running late, as usual) and I can’t wait to post about recent enogastronomic adventures. Last night, Tracie B, Alice, and I did drink this fantastic natural Lambrusco by Camillo Donati with Pierre at Racine.

Ok… gotta run… more later… stay tuned!

I soliti ignoti and blogs I’ve been reading lately

My friend and co-editor of VinoWire, Franco Ziliani, has posted recently on the Wine Spectator‘s Top 100 List (my translation is posted at VinoWire) and James Suckling’s top Piedmont picks (in Italian). Franco points out rightly: it’s simply appalling that Giacomino (Lil’ James) Suckling and the Wine Spectator elide an entire swath of traditionalist wines and even include wines virtually unknown to Italians and their palates. After all, aren’t they the Italians’ wines first and foremost? If you want a list of Nebbiolo not to get me for Christmas, read Suckling’s article (to be published on December 15). His wines are the soliti ignoti, the usual suspects, that appear on his list every year and he arrogantly ignores the wines that have historically defined the region. (See IWG’s post.)

Over at Montalcino Report, winemaker Alessandro Bindocci has published some interesting posts about olive oil made from depitted drupes and “integrated farming.”

Ever the devoted fan, I always love to read Simona Carini’s excellent blog Briciole. And I owe Simona a thanks for the help she’s been giving me with the desserts in a translation I’m doing for Oronzo Editions.

Alice Feiring posted this conflicted take on the California Conundrum.

Tracie B just posted this irresistibly delicious piece on pasta e fagioli (but, then again, I might be a bit biased when it comes to her cooking).

And on a totally unrelated note, I’m in the Marines Too! reminds me that we are a country at war and that world conflicts affect the lives and hearts of the people who live in my hometown.


Even if you don’t understand Italian, watch this clip from Monicelli’s 1958 classic, I soliti ignoti (literally, the usual unknowns or the usual suspects but released in English as Big Deal on Madonna Street). Totò’s performance is brilliant…

Amazing Amelia and the Tortillas del Rancho (Dallas)

Above: tacos al pastor at Del Rancho in Garland (Dallas), Texas. Dora at Bahia Don Bravo in La Jolla will always hold a special place in my culinary heart but Amelia’s tortillas can’t be beat.

Tortillas del Rancho Restaurant
220 W. Kingsley Rd. #426
Ridgewood Shopping Center
Garland (Dallas), TX 75041

Tracie B and I spent the weekend in Dallas hanging out with Italian Wine Guy and the Queen of Dallas Eats. Many great wines were opened (coming soon), fiorentine were grilled, many tall tales told, a Grassy Knoll was contemplated on the 45th anniversary of the somber and sobering day (was irony born that day or did it die?), and a grand time had by all.

Above: the kitchen at Tortillas del Rancho delivered deliciously lime-soaked and lightly fried cornmeal dough topped with gently piquant roast pork.

I am rushed today by a few deadlines but couldn’t resist posting about the amazing Amelia (one of my editors admonishes me for my love of alliteration but the allure of Amelia’s food is truly ambrosial).

Tortillas del Rancho has recently expanded with a new location and a new tortilleria.


A famous example of alliteration (and anaphora when read in context):

    Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona
    (Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving)

    Inferno, 5, 103

That same canto gave Italian (and amorous) literature another one of its most memorable lines:

    Galeotto fu ‘l libro e chi lo scrisse
    (A Galeotto was the book and he that wrote it)

    ibid., 137

Maremma, part 3: drinking from the holy grails

Ante scriptum: In keeping with a tradition established by Brooklynguy, a wine blogger whom I admire greatly, I feel obliged to make note of the fact that this is my 300th post. I can only echo his typically deadpan understatement, “It has been such a pleasure to write this blog, mostly because of the community of wine people it has given me access to.” Earlier this year, Vino al Vino and Do Bianchi launched a blog born through a virtual transatlantic conversation. Today, My Life Italian and Do Bianchi are driving up to Dallas from Austin to dine with Italian Wine Guy. There are truly remarkable people behind all of these URLs: Neil, Franco, Tracie B, and Alfonso are four people whose lives wouldn’t have intersected with mine if not for blogging, and there are so many others… I am truly thankful for all of them in my life…


Above: Sebastiano Rosa (left) gave me a tour of the storied vineyards where the grapes of his family’s Sassicaia are produced.

My September pilgrimage to the Mecca of Super Tuscia (how’s that for a neologism?) would not have been complete without a visit to the holy grails of Super Tuscandom, Ornellaia and Sassicaia. These wines need no introduction and a click-through to their websites and a Google search will give you plenty of information on their illustrious history and their presence in the market today.

Above: I visited the famed Masseto vineyard, where Ornellaia grows its top Merlot grapes, just days before picking began. While others in the area had already begun to harvest their Merlot, Ornellaia extended hang time to achieve riper fruit and higher sugar levels.

I’ve tasted these wines a number of times over the years and although I am not a fan (nor can I afford to be), they are among the greatest — if not the greatest and most original — expressions of the genre: elegant terroir-driven wines, made with French varieties grown on Tuscan soil, structured and nuanced, long-lived and highly coveted in the market.

My visit to Sassicaia was impressive for how unassuming the facility is. Sebastiano Rosa, whose family owns the legendary estate, is a dude about my age who studied enology at UC Davis. He speaks English like a Californian (like me) and his family’s winery has remained virtually unchanged since the 19th century. There is no vaulted-ceiling entrance or grand tasting room. And aside from the introduction of stainless-steel, the winemaking facility and vinificiation practices are pretty much the same as they have been since the wine was first produced in the 1940s (and first released in 1968). I tasted with Sebastiano and then we drove up to see one of the growing sites. He is one of Italy’s top winemakers and produces one of its most sought-after wines. But he struck me as a mellow guy with whom I’d rather drink a beer and roll a taco…

Above: as Ornellaia’s vineyard manager, Leonardo Raspini oversees some of the most coveted growing sites in the world, producing wines that command top prices on the world wine market.

Ornellaia is the polar opposite: as you drive through manicured estate and arrive at the corporate offices and winery, you are keenly aware that every detail has been scripted to evoke the same opulence and prestige contained in each precious bottle.

Above: the aging room at Ornellaia is a temple of barrique.

If you’re traveling to Bolgheri, I cannot recommend a visit to Ornellaia highly enough. From the winery and vineyard tour to the elegant tasting cottage, this was simply one of the most enjoyable, user-friendly, and informative winery visits you can make. And unlike Sassicaia, the winery is open to the public: you must reserve in advance and they will customize the tasting according to your palate and your price point (Ornellaia possesses an extensive library of older vintages). He’s not always available but if possible, request vineyard manager Leonardo Raspini as your guide. I was blown away by his ability to convey the artistry of state-of-the-art winemaking technology and philosophy and I was thrilled to shake the hand of the guy who grows the grapes for the first Italian wine to be sold in the Place de Bordeaux.

This just in…

Sue me, Summus. The Italian news weekly L’Espresso reports that nearly 50% of Banfi’s 2003 Brunello has been declassified.

Yesterday’s wine: Willie Nelson at the Backyard

Miracles appear in the strangest of places…

Above: no synthesizers allowed… Willie played with a piano player, bass, drums, percussion, and harmonica. He played all the guitar himself on that same old acoustic guitar he’s used on all his albums. Man, that dude can play the guitar. I love his signature chromatic scales in his solos.

A week ago yesterday, Tracie B and I went to see Willie Nelson on the closing night of Austin’s storied concert venue, the Backyard. (Click here for a story about the closing of this legendary concert “shed.” I love what the reporter wrote: “Most folks say if the backyard does re-open elsewhere they’ll likely go, but it won’t be the same.”)

He played nearly all my favorites, including Yesterday’s Wine, one of his many greats, which was also recorded as a duet by George Jones and Merle Haggard (a great version):

    Yesterday’s wine, I’m yesterday’s wine
    Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine

I don’t know much about Willie’s palate (although I do know that he and I share a predilection for another indulgence). But, like analog wine in a digital age, his songbook has evolved gracefully over the years, with the nuanced notes of a classic American composer — just like yesterday’s wine… One of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life.

Above: “Ain’t you glad we ain’t all California girls/Ain’t you glad there’s still a few of us left/That know how to rock your world” (Gretchen Wilson). Tracie B and Jeremy P at Willie last Sunday.


In other news…

Do Bianchi is rarely a forum for political views but something I witnessed Friday compels me to ask my Californian sisters and brothers to please vote NO on Proposition 8. Drivers-by hurled insults at the woman in the photo (left) and the other protesters who lined Adams St. around the corner from Jaynes Gastropub.

Proposition 8, which would outlaw gay marriage in California, “is discrimination,” it’s un-American, and it’s just plain wrong. At the restaurant on Saturday, I waited on a super nice couple who recently got married (they drank Il Poggione 2006 Rosso di Montalcino): the vote will be close, they told me, and every vote will count.


Miracles appear in the strangest of places
Fancy meeting you here
The last time I saw you was just out of Houston
Sit down, let me buy you a beer

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here
This is a hangout of mine
We come here quite often and listen to music
Partaking of yesterday’s wine

Yesterday’s wine, I’m yesterday’s wine
Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine
Yesterday’s wine, we’re yesterday’s wine
Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine

You give the appearence of one widely travelled
I’ll bet you’ve seen things in your time
So sit down beside me and tell me your story
If you think you’ll like yesterday’s wine