Merle Haggard, “Back to Earth”

Tracie P and I splurged on Friday night and treated ourselves to seventh row seats at the Merle Haggard show at the (bring your own booze ’cause they ain’t got none) River Bend Auditorium (and erstwhile church) in Austin.

We first saw him together in 2009 and the show brought back lots of memories of when I first moved to Austin and our hearts were brimming with dreams of building a financial future for ourselves and having a family (Friday was the first time we had a sitter!).

It was great to hear Merle play the hits and tell the stories again… But the song that moved me the most wasn’t one of his. It was Willie Nelson’s “Back to Earth.”

I found the clip below from a Ryman Auditorium (I don’t need to tell you where that is) performance from 2008.

It’s really a song about love lost… But it’s also about enduring, true love… It’s been nearly four years since I first came to Austin from California and I know that our song will never have a final verse… I wouldn’t trade these last four years of my life for anything in the world.

Songs our love created I still sing
Love we knew still makes the rafters ring
Tonight I’ll sing for everything I’m worth
For all the hearts that have settled back to earth

Our song will never have a final verse
Our hearts just finally settled back to earth

Brunello, you were always on my mind

It’s hard to believe that we were in Montalcino just a few short weeks ago! That’s Tracie P, above, atop the Fortezza in the historical center of the town, where Benvenuto Brunello begins today — the appellation’s annual grand tasting, where producers present their new vintages, this year, the 2004 2005 Brunello di Montalcino, the 2003 Brunello di Montalcino riserva, the 2008 Rosso di Montalcino, and the Moscadello di Montalcino (which I’ve never seen in the U.S.).

Tracie P and I tasted some great 2004 Brunello (not an easy vintage and certainly not a spectacular vintage for those not blessed with superior growing sites) and one phenomenal 2003 riserva.

I don’t have time to pen a decent post today: we’re busy moving into a little house we rented, our first home together! But I will post on the wines we tasted and the different terroirs of Montalcino next week.

Even though I love wines from many different regions of Italy, Brunello will always be my first romance: my enophilia grew out of my first visit to Bagno Vignoni, just south of Montalcino, when a friend and student of mine lent me the keys to his apartment there in 1989.

Brunello, you were always on my mind…

My writing partner Franco Ziliani is attending Benvenuto Brunello (where, unfortunately, it’s next-to-impossible to get online!) and we’ll be posting his impressions next week over at VinoWire.

Bloody Mary Morning (a lil’ Tex Mex porn)

tex mex

Last weekend’s 3-day bachelor party… well, let’s just say it left me and brothers Tad and Micah a little hazy. By the time it was over, it was most definitely time for a “Blood Mary morning” and so, to make their culinary Trifecta complete (they’d already had some great Texas steak some great Texas bbq), it was time for Tex Mex at one of Austin’s classics, Chuys. My morning started with a Michelada — essentially a bloody Mary made with beer. Chuy’s features $3 margaritas and bloody Marys on Sunday, btw, I wonder why?)

tex mex

The Wild Burrito, above, is a “wet” burrito made with slowly braised tender stringy beef and Hatch chiles. Some might argue that the inclusion of Hatch chiles and the Sonora-style “wet” presentation would betray New Mexico and Arizona roots of this dish. But who needs dogmatism on a bloody Mary morning? Needless to say, I did my best “James Brown” imitation, as Tracie B likes to tease me, consuming this dish.

tex mex

Deluxe chicken enchiladas, above, are essentially, enchiladas verdes, with sour cream added to the salsa verde. An Austin original, Chuys has become a Texas franchise chain restaurant. But it’s everything Tex Mex should be: cheap, colorful, delicious, fun, and a perfect cure for a hangover!

tex mex

Fajitas are an undisputed signature of Tex Mex cuisine. Some will argue that they originated in Austin while others will claim Houston. No one will deny that they have become a calling card of Tex Mex cuisine from sea to shining sea.

Thanks, again, to brothers Micah and Tad (below), for coming out and giving me a great “lost bachelor weekend” here in Austin. I can’t think of better way to end it than with a blood Mary morning!

tex mex

Check out this amazing video of Willie doing “Blood Mary Morning” way back when before he was even playing his signature guitar. If that ain’t Texan, I don’t know what is!

How her life Italian became mine (and our very first wine)

Above: The first wine we ever tasted together was Moncontour sparkling Vouvray. Tracie B had a bottle waiting for me in my hotel room the first time I came to Austin to visit. “Champagne,” I said. “No,” she corrected me. “It’s Vouvray.” I guess you could say that she had me at “hello.”

Stranger things have happened. When I got on a plane to come visit Tracie B in Austin, Texas in August last year, she and I weren’t strangers but we had never met in person nor had we ever spoken on the phone. We had been emailing probably ten times a day since our first exchange on July 15, the day after my birthday, one year ago today.

Above: This photo was taken the second time I visited and the first time we went to my now favorite (and Tracie B’s all-time favorite) Austin honky tonk, Ginny’s Little Longhorn. I was most definitely in the “pesce lesso” or “boiled fish” stage, as Franco used to tease me happily. That’s an Italian expression for “you’re so in love that the expression on your face looks like that of a boiled fish” (more or less). Franco’s family agreed with his assessment.

When my beautiful Tracie B and I became friends on Facebook a year ago today and began emailing and messaging furiously, I had known of her existence for some time: I had learned about her blog in early 2008 when I read her comments at Italian Wine Guy’s blog and started reading about “her life Italian.” IWG (aka Alfonso) and I had become friends through blogging, as had he and Tracie B. I really liked her “sassy” comments, as she likes to say, and when I started reading her blog, I was immediately enchanted by her honest writing style, with its Texan- and Neapolitan-inflected twang, and her funny insights into her life as an “ex pat” in Italy. But what impressed me the most was her sharp palate and her immense talent for describing wine. I was already a fan, but from a distance.

Above: In October, I surprised Tracie B for her birthday with Willie Nelson tickets. Back then, we had a long-distance relationship and I would come to visit with her in Austin about once a month. We hadn’t started talking yet about me moving here but the Texas flag in the background was a certain sign of things to come!

After Tracie B and I had been emailing, Facebooking, and otherwise messaging for about a month, IWG serendipitously suggested that I come out for Tex Som, the annual Texas sommelier conference, held in Austin last year (this year in Dallas). I couldn’t make it on those dates and so I asked Tracie B if I could come visit her anyway. She said yes and so the San Diego Kid booked himself a room at a B&B not far from where she lives.

Above: That’s us on New Year’s 2009 in Austin, just a few weeks after I drove out to Texas in my beat-up old Volvo from San Diego where I had been living.

We never spoke in realtime or in real life until that very first day she came to pick me up at the Austin airport back in August. In the months that followed, I must have come to visit Tracie B three or four times. In a lot of ways, our courtship was very old-fashioned: we would write each other every day, describing our daily lives and our lives past and our hoped-for lives future. I would send her mixed CDs of my favorite music, mostly country, and lots of dedications of songs that expressed what I was feeling for her.

Above: In February, Tracie B accompanied me on tour in France with my band Nous Non Plus. We had one of the most memorable meals of my life, lunch at the Tour d’Argent. It was a beautiful, clear winter day in Paris and I’ll never forget the way the sunlight shone on Tracie B’s face, reflecting up from the Seine.

In November, Tracie B made her first trip westward, to see where I lived and to meet my family and friends. By then, we were already deeply connected and the pangs of love that came with every goodbye were too much to bear and it was during her visit that we first talked about me moving to Austin. Later that month, I met her family for the first time when Tracie B took me home with her for Thanksgiving in Orange, Texas where she grew up.

Above: In March, Tracie B surprised me with Merle Haggard tickets. We’re both huge country music fans. That night was one of the most fun ever.

You see, when I met Tracie B, my whole life changed (you may remember the post I did, not too long ago, Just some of the reasons I’m so smitten). I’ll never forget when I first told Jayne and Jon about Tracie B and how I was going to visit her for the first time. “She’s an amazing writer,” I told them, “she loves food and wine, she has a fantastic palate, she loves country music, she’s beautiful, and she can cook like nobody’s business…” And Jon turned me and said, “AND she can speak Italian?” (Sometimes Tracie B and I speak in Italian, her with her Neapolitan accent, me with my Veneto accent! It’s hilarious.) By December, we had decided that I would move to Austin and I packed up my car and headed east and rented myself an apartment here. It was the smartest thing I have ever done (not that I am known for doing smart things).

Above: In April we went to the Texas Hill Country Food and Wine festival gala in Austin. I don’t know how a guy could be prouder than having a beautiful lady like Tracie B on his arm.

You see, Tracie B is simply the most lovely creature on this God’s earth that I have ever seen. And her cover-girl beauty is matched by the immense generosity of her heart and her bright spirit. Through her love and her affection, her devotion and her tenderness she has brought once unimaginable joy in to my life. I’ve fallen madly in love with her and just can’t imagine my life without her. She is my “Phantom of Delight”:

A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.

And so her life Italian has become mine.

Above: In May, I gave Tracie B this 1930s diamond and blue sapphire ring and asked her if she would marry me and she said yes! We are getting married in January 2010 in La Jolla and then we’re going to celebrate with friends and family at Jaynes Gastropub. I would venture to say that we’ll probably blog it, too! ;-)

When people ask us how we met, we tell them the story of how we learned of each other’s existence through our blogs and then were introduced online by a mutual and virtual friend whom we had both met through blogging. We courted, sending each other secret messages through our blog posts: remember the kiss I blew from the stage in Germany last September? Sometimes, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, we sit around her living room drinking coffee, blogging and reading blogs, sending each other messages on Facebook and emailing each other. Ours is a bloggy blog world and we love it.

It’s our life Italian now and I love her. I love her thoroughly, completely, absolutely, immeasurably, undeniably, undyingly, ceaselessly, tirelessly, unflaggingly… I thank goodness for the day I started my blog way back in 2006, just to keep a journal of good things I drank and ate. Blogging has delivered more rewards — personally and professionally — than I could have ever imagined. (Click here to read her version of our story).

Coda: We’ll be serving that same sparkling Vouvray by Moncontour to our wedding guests as they arrive next January.


She Was a Phantom of Delight
—William Wordsworth

She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment’s ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

I saw her upon a nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveler between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.

Just Say NO to Merlot!

In case you haven’t read Franco’s editorial at VinoWire, “Vino Nobile producers: just say no to Merlotization,” please check it out (translation by yours truly). Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of the greatest terroir-driven expressions of Sangiovese and it would be a pity to see it dumbed down by higher percentages of international grape varieties. Please comment if you feel so inclined.

Patrizia Castiglioni and Dora Forsoni make my favorite Vino Nobile at Sanguineto. Tracie B always notes that “if Willie Nelson had an Italian sister, it would be Dora.” They are truly lovely folks and when I took this photo of them, Dora smiled sweetly at Patrizia and said, “no one has ever taken our picture together before.” Their wines are natural and stinky, just the way I like them. You won’t find any Merlot here.

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!

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