The Babbo effect and a visit to the Bastianich winery in Colli Orientali del Friuli

Above: My friend Wayne Young, whom I met in 1998 in New York when he had already been working within the then-expanding Bastianich empire for three years. In the photo, Wayne is standing atop the amphitheater growing site where the top wines for the Bastianich winery are grown in the Colli Orientali del Friuli.

Babbo changed everything. It was “a fine-dining Italian à la carte restaurant below 14th St.,” as Joe Bastianich put it when I first met him in 1998 (when I was working as an editor at La Cucina Italiana in the City).

Ruth Reichl’s watershed New York Times review of the place in April 1998, “A Radical Departure with Sure Footing,” marked a point of no return for pseudo-Italian restaurateurship in the U.S.

I remember that Wednesday in August 1998 well: it was the day that Italian gastronomic irony died and the newly minted craze of Italian regional cuisine took firm hold in North America. Whether you liked Babbo or not (and who didn’t want to get a table at Babbo?), from that day forward, if you cooked Italian food in the U.S., you had to do it earnestly: your food was only as good as the authenticity that stood behind it.

Above: Alfonso tasting with the COF2011 blogger team and winemaker Emilio del Medico and winery GM Dennis Lepore.

Wayne Young and I first met back in those heady days of New York’s Italian food scene. We all knew a revolution was taking place even though, from the eye of the storm, we didn’t realize its portent. Today, Wayne — who has worked as a sommelier at Bastianich outposts Becco and Babbo — serves as the Bastianich winery’s “special ops” man on the ground in the Colli Orientali del Friuli (the blogger project there was his idea). He is involved in every aspect of the operation, from winemaking (a wasp in his pants is what gave him the idea to call the winery’s flagship white “Vespa”!) to sales (ask him what it’s like to sell wine in Serbia!) and marketing (he is the only Friulian winemaker to author a winery blog).

Wayne is a remarkable man, with great generosity of heart and a warm gentleness. I’ve never heard him say a nasty word about anyone and I admire him for the way he lives his life perfectly integrated into Friulian society where he is welcomed and beloved by all we met. Despite his nordic locks, everyone calls him “a local” up there in northeasternmost Italy.

Above: In our tasting last week at the winery, my favorite wine was the 2009 Sauvignon Bianco. Fresh and clean, with balanced aromatic character and that bright acidity that I want (and need), it should retail for under $20 in the U.S. The Bastianich Sauvignon has a screw cap, a feature that allows the winemaker to add a smaller amount of sulfite to the wine, because the screw cap allows less oxidation (where a cork, an organic substance, would allow more).

Like Wayne, the Bastianich family has been welcomed in the Colli Orientali del Friuli as winemakers. President of the COF consortium Pierluigi Comelli told us the story of how Joe and mother Lidia came to him asking for advice on where to buy property and set up their facility. Ultimately, on his advice, they revived a winery that had abandoned after the owner’s untimely passing. And they bought uncultivated growing sites where they cleared the woods themselves to make way for vineyards. After a week in the COF, I had a clear sense that winemakers there appreciate the expanded exposure and bandwidth that the Bastianich brand brings with it. “Everyone rises with the tide” seemed to be the consensus.

Above: On Friday evening, the last of our trip in the COF, we took time out to celebrate with a beer in Cividale del Friuli. You can’t really help but smile when you’re around Wayne — it’s contagious. That’s Nicolas, David, and Alfonso to the right.

Spending the week tasting and comparing notes with Wayne (who, as a local winemaker, shared a lot of interesting insights with the group), I couldn’t help but think back to 1998, when we first met and none of us really understood what was about to happen. As Eric the Red recently pointed out to me, it was a time of Italian gastronomic “innocence” (it is Eric whom Mario Batali’s father Armandino credits for having “discovered” his son’s talent in 1993).

I’m glad to know that the fame and the celebrity hasn’t changed my old friend Wayne.

Are you going to Scarbolo fair? First day in Friuli

Later today I hope to have the time to reveal why and how I’ve come to Friuli.

But before the official working leg of the trip begins, I wanted to take time out to catch up with my friend Wayne, who lives and works in Friuli as the sales and marketing director for the Bastianich winery here.

In a world where ego generally trumps humanity, Wayne is one of the rare and welcomed anomalies: a right guy, as one might have said a half-century ago, who just happens to work in the top tier of the food and wine industry. When he suggested we go meet winemaker Valter Scarbolo for dinner at his legendary restaurant La Frasca in Lauzacco (Udine), I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Dinner began with Lorenzo d’Osvaldo’s superb prosciutto crudo and ossocollo and Valter’s housemade salame (above).

Next, di rigore, came tagliolini San Daniele.

This was followed by a dish that would have been met with wholehearted approval by any semiotician gourmand, Valter’s raviolo aperto, stuffed with montasio cheese and venison, topped with wild berries. (A bottle of sparkling Verduzzo for anyone who can place the exegetic pun I’ve made for this dish!)

As we were joined by Valter’s son Mattia who had arrived from his kick-boxing workout (and was evidently famished), the conversation turned to the current student housing crisis in Italy, soon to be faced by the young matricola.

As we lingered over intensely aromatic formàdi frant (formaggio frantumato, literally splintered cheese, a classic farmer’s cheese of Friuli), the wine I kept going back to was Valter’s My Time, so-called because, despite the urgings of his enologist, he waits to bottle and releases this wine only when he feels it’s achieved its full potential. As it warmed up in the glass, this wine (made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Tocai fermented in cask) was simply gorgeous, with nuanced fruit and noble structure, delightful with the pasta dishes, intriguing and intellectually stimulating with the cheese course.

Last night wasn’t a time for delving into the details of enogastronomic science: it was time for catching up with an old friend and making a new one.

When it comes your time to go to Scarbolo fair, please remember me to the one who lives there…

Stay tuned…

One crazy ass psychedelic wine shirt

Casual was the call for attire at the wine dinner I hosted on Saturday night at Jaynes Gastropub and so I decided to don the above psychedelic vintage 70s disco shirt (recently unearthed in a box that arrived with my library from my Manhattan storage). I’ve never really been able to figure out what it means. On the back, a bunch of grapes transforms into silver balls. On the front, silver balls reveal a convex image of a wine bottle and one of the balls falls to the ground and bursts. There is an upside down dessert sunset that lines the bottom of the shirt (from the wearer’s POV, it looks like a sunset).

I’ll post more on the dinner tomorrow so stay tuned: Australian wines I like! Yes, I actually found some!

In other news…

Tom, I thought you’d never ask! Tom over at Fermentation posted my BloggerView interview yesterday. Tom’s blog is currently the number 1 most-visited wine blog in the world and I was thrilled that he asked me to do an interview. I had a lot of fun with it and was flattered by Tom’s generous words. Click here to read.

Even more thrilling was the revelation of what will become my new tag line: “Guitar slingin’ somm and scholarly scribe of vinous humanism Jeremy Parzen.” Thanks, McDuff, for the new epigram and thanks for the generous shout out.

Lastly, due to an editing error on my part, one of my favorite wine blogs ended up on the cutting room floor of Tom’s interview: Wayne Young’s blog The Buzz is most definitely one of my daily reads. Sorry about that, Wayne!

In other other news…

Check out this way cool Austin slide show and profile in The New York Times Travel mag. It features the Broken Spoke where I’ve been playing some gigs lately.

Who knew that Austin was such a great place to live? ;-)

I moved here for LOVE. :-)

Grape porn from around the world (harvest has begun)

Come on, just admit it… We ALL like to look at a little grape porn now and then, don’t we? Even Alder likes him some grape porn.

It’s that time of year again and bloggers have been posting photos of the harvest as it progresses.

My favorite grape porn photo so far is the one above by Wayne over in Friuli.

In Montalcino they began harvesting Moscadello di Montalcino last week and this week they began to pick the Merlot. The Merlot comes in earlier than the Sangiovese. Alessandro posted the photo above: he and his father use the Merlot to make their Super Tuscan Mazzoni. (See, it’s okay to like Merlot, as long as you label it correctly.) So far, so good: it’s looking like a good harvest in Montalcino.

Over in Napa, Vinogirl author of Vinsanity posted this image of Pinot Gris — yes, the red grape that we’ve been taught to think of us a white grape. (Vinogirl has also been coming up with some sassy titles for her posts.)

From the Greek pornos (prostitute) + graph (writer), pornograph means literally someone who describes or writes about prostitutes.

I would hardly call those little berries prostitutes but they sure can be sexy and I’m not sure why, by they do inspire mimetic desire in me (mimesis means imitation in Greek).

For some vintage grape porn, like the image to the left, check out these beautiful plates from Giorgio Gallesio’s Pomona italiana (completed in 1839).


Didn’t George Harrrison write a song called “I, Mimesis, Mine”? Here’s Elliot Smith’s version.

More pizza porn…

Here are some of the pizza pairings suggested in the wake of last week’s post, Pizza, pairing, and Pasolini. I’ve also posted some more pizza pornography just for the fun of it…

Haven’t found great pizza in Austin yet but I’m still looking!

I’m trying to get Tracie B to make me my favorite pizza: alla bassanese (the way they make it in Bassano del Grappa), with white asparagus and a fried egg in the middle. I bet that Texas Espresso’s Italian has had it that way (he’s from Monselice in the eastern Veneto, not too far from Bassano).

Thanks, everyone for the pairings! And special thanks to Dr. V for getting the whole thing cooking…

A16 (San Francisco)

I know that only Italians (and only a very small bunch of them) will follow me….try CHINOTTO (the best alternative to coke in the world).
Francesco (Vinonostrum)

I am partial to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Zinfandel, Brindisi, and Salice Salentino with pizza.
Thomas (Vino Fictions)

A16 bis (San Francisco)

I’m Italian and live in Italy, but I don’t have a PhD in Italian. Like Big Moz said, going to the pizzeria is the normal get-together- not only for young people. I’ve never seen anyone order wine with pizza unless it’s someone who doesn’t drink beer at all (in which case of seen them order the house red wine). No doubt about it, beer is usually drunk with pizza.

One of my first loves with pizza back in my ‘tator days was Renato Ratti Dolcetto. The play of the Dolcetto fruit and acidic tomato sauce was awesome! These days I have fallen in love with well-made lambrusco, and that for me is the best mach I can think of at the moment. Try “Acino” Lambrusco from Corte Manzini, or even their base level Lambrusco Secco… PERFECT!
Wayne (The Buzz)

Da Vinci (Bensonhurst, Brooklyn)

I know it’s not so Napolitano but old fashioned Barbera sound pretty good to me. On the other hand, some Frappato is not so bad.
Alice (Appellation Feiring)

The combination of pizza with wine is endless, as both can carry such a broad range of subtle flavors, textures and aromas. From Chianti to Amarone, and the Ribera del Duero mentioned [below]. Even when it’s not a perfect match, there is still chemistry, like a relationship that doesn’t work, it still has much to offer.
Global Patriot

Lucali (Carrol Gardens, Brooklyn)

When we make pizza, as we are going to tonight since we are freezing out posteriors off, I like to drink a Nero d’Avola or a Puglese red with some stuffing. My significant spouse usually goes with Zin or a red Rhone. Try a decent red Rioja or Ribera del Duero sometime.
Marco (Anima Mundi)

My preference for a perfect pizza partner is either Piedirosso or Précoce d’Espagna.
Alfonso (On the Wine Trail in Italy)

La Pizza Fresca (Gramercy, Manhattan)

You can pair pizza with many Italian white wines (like Falanghina, or Lacrima Christi, or Soave), and overall with some good rosé wines from Apulia (Negroamaro grape) or Abruzzo (Montepulciano grape).
Franco (Vino al Vino)

Ok, cold nastro azzuro on draft aside, you musta to dreenk a frothy gragnano (all of you northerners are suggesting lambrusco, how about its cugino meridionale? doesn’t it just make more sense? this is the pairing of tradition with the panuozzi of the eponymous city). Or, agreeing with franco, a crisp and fruity falanghina would be my second choice.
Tracie B

Personally the only thing I ever want with my pizza is a cold European beer (preferably Menabrea), though if the wine in question was Lini’s Labrusca Rosso I could perhaps be swayed…
James Taylor (VinoNYC)

Angelo Gaja’s rosy glasses and apocalyptic vision and blogs I (can’t) read

Neither Franco nor I can decipher the cryptic post published by the bishop of Barbaresco, Angelo Gaja (photo by Alfonso Cevola), at I numeri del vino (one of the most important resources in the enoblogosphere for hard data on Italian wine). Gaja seems to want his cake and eat it too, riding both sides of the fence in the Brunello controversy, warning producers that “nothing can be the same” while painting a rosy picture of a world of Italian wine free of commercial fraud. Read our faithful translation at VinoWire and let me know what you think.

Blogs I (can’t) read…

I haven’t been doing much blog-surfing lately because I am slammed with work right now and just finished my move to my new apartment in Austin. But there are some new feeds in my Google reader.

In the world of corporate blogging (clogging), I’ve really been enjoying Italian Wine Guy’s newest creation, The Blend. His insights into the current state of our industry should be required reading for any and all wine professionals (old and young).

An old comrade from the early days of the Italian wine and food revolution (think 1998-1999) in New York, Wayne Young, has taken up blogging from the far eastern front of the now Napoleonic empire (it’s funny how the revolution always becomes an empire, isn’t it?). Wayne’s winemaking knowledge is impressive and his “tell it like it is” anecdotes from the world of wine and wine writing are always thought-provoking.

When in the mood for some Lacanian musings (contemplating the signifier over the signified), I often find myself gazing mindlessly at two blogs I can’t read.

FinareVinare in Sweden often links to me and to Eric le Rouge. I have no idea what FinareVinare is saying but I know its author likes some of the same wines I do.

Billigt Vin, also in Sweden, is another one. When I “read” it, I’m like a young Petrarch with his cherished manuscript of Cicero: I can’t understand what the words mean but I know they mean something important (well, I don’t mean to compare myself to Petrarch — he was kind of a big deal, after all).

Lastly, I cannot omit a blog that I can read, Armadillo Bar by Alessandro, a long lost brother in wine and roots music and the greatest Austinophile on the planet. Sometimes, instead of checking the Austin Chronicle for what show Tracie B and I should go to, I just email Alessandro, who always responds with incredible celerity and pinpoint precision. Every time I see an armadillo on the road, I think of Alessandro and his blog.

Even if you can’t read it, Armadillo Bar is always worth the visit for the tracks Alessandro spins.