Peace, Love & Pizza @OGSgtPepperonis #BYO #NebbioloNight

Decisions, decisions...I am super proud to be part of the hospitality industry.  Supplying Italian wine to restaurants and shops has become an amazingly satisfying career for me- I love our community!  Recently we started a monthly “Industry Night” in Orange County, California, where we get together to network, to relax, to get to know each other, and to taste wine.  What better way to start our BYO evenings than with our first theme… Nebbiolo!

Rinaldi 1993-1This is a really simple concept you can start almost anywhere you are able to collect a group of oenophiles interested in tasting.  Have everyone bring a bottle around a theme you pre-determine.  Find an awesome spot where you can taste the wine together, maybe have something to eat while you’re at it.

Hosts with the Most!

Luckily for us, we have access to Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizza in Newport Beach where Stan and Jenn Frazier are wiling to host geeky wine gathering.  As it says on the sign…

Peace Love Pizza

 Peace, Love & Pizza!

The greatest thing about organizing an event like this is the way it builds community.  It’s really fun to come together to share something as interesting and personal as a bottle of with from your own personal collection.  You’ll learn something about everyone else too.  Wine is an excellent ice-breaker!

Borgogno 64-1

Definitely the stunner of the night (thanks, Gary!)… 1964 Borgogno. Original closure.  Perfectly stored and wrapped in cellophane.  Blooming with violets and dried mushrooms.  Just gorgeous.


The infamous Cheeseburger Pizza.  You know you want this.


Meatballs.  To. Die. For.


We had unusual Nebbiolo from unusual places.  Boca. Carema. Valtellina. Ghemme. Gattinara.  We also tasted a lot of the Langhe. Interestingly enough, I thought somebody would bring a Nebbiolo from California, but nobody did.  I guess we are all a little bit in love with Italia! It was a beautiful sight to behold, all those bottles of Nebbiolo in one place.  Zero pretense, and no arrogant preconceptions.  Just a bunch of people coming together to learn something more about Nebbiolo by tasting wine together.  Bravo!


Decisions, decisions.


In the end our “Industry Night” at Sgt. Pepperoni’s was a total success and a whole lot of fun.  I urge you to create some kind of tasting group in your own community.  If you give people this kind of forum, they will come together.

Another thing I learned… nothing makes faster friends than Nebbiolo!


15 Vintages of #Sassicaia, the Super-est. @republiqueLA @moderntaylor


I had one of the most incredible food and wine experiences of my life recently, all thanks to Dan Pirelli at the Wine Hotel.  Who else would have the ability (or the vision) to put together a vertical tasting AND paired-wine-dinner with 15 vintages of Sassicaia?

Nobody else.  Never been done before.  May never be done again.

Duck Tartare-1Lamb Tartare to start, alongside 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.

I love vertical tasting because it gives you insight into so many unique facets of a wine.  It’s like normal wine tasting on steroids.  You get all the usual sensory information (aromatics, fruit, acid, tannins, color), plus the most interesting aspect of all- time.  When you taste over decades of winemaking you get a sense of the evolution of the wine, the struggle and triumph of the winemakers, and the history of the terroir.  Global Warming?  You’ll sense it.  Change in wine-making regime?  You’ll taste it.  New vineyards?  New barrels?  It’s crystal clear- especially when you line them all up and taste them next to one another.

Pot au Feu

Beef Tongue Pot-au-Feu paired with 1984, 1986, and 1987.

Pairing food with old wines is not simple task.  At Republique this is done artfully and with laser-focus.  Taylor Parsons and Chef Walter Manzke know the general flavor and aromatic composition of the wines beforehand, so they can design a rough outline of proteins and sauce-bases, but the final flavor adjustments happen at the last possible seconds.  Tastes of the wines are flying down to the kitchen periodically so that Chef Manzke  can sniff, tastes and fine-tune each dish to the most perfect degree- à la minute.  Now that is something you rarely, if ever, see in the world of fine dining.  Simply thrilling.

Mezze-maniche with Beemster Gouda and Matsutake Mushrooms: 1975, 1976 and 1988.

There were definitely a few stand-outs from the vertical.  1982 was predictably amazing- lilacs, dried hay- delicate and feminine and totally beguiling.  1975 was also beautiful- decidedly more masculine with a very savory profile- salty/sweet/ amaro palate and a super long finish.  1979 was also remarkable- sultry and brooding with these sweet tones of wet earth and minerality.  My notes for 1978 weren’t as expository- I simply wrote “amazing”.

Duck Breast

Duck breast and butternut squash with 1970, 1978, 1979 and 1985.

I feel like I learned a lot about Tenuta San Guido and Sassicaia from this dinner.  I probably learned a lot about tasting wine, too.  These are the experiences you should search out if you want to expand your palate and your mind.  Lots of people (wrongfully) think Sassicaia is only about power, extraction and strength.  I found that in contrast this is one of the most old-world, elegant, food-driven wines in the world.  Especially with age.  In the tradition of many Cabernet-based wines, Sassicaia needs time to express its true potential, to show its innate elegance and grace.

Taylor Parsons

Taylor Parsons- Man, Myth and Legend.

The chance to taste these wines was unforgettable, but the way Dan Pirelli,  Republique Wine Director Taylor Parsons and Chef Walter Manzke paired the food with these wines was simply extraordinary.  I highly suggest you click through to the Wine Hotel’s website and sign up for their newsletter… These three put a wine dinner together each month, and every one is better than the last.  Simply the ultimate experiences in food & wine pairing.

ConversationI felt really flattered to be part of this dinner- almost like being invited to a secret meeting of the illuminati.  But the truth is, these intimate gatherings can be found at the heart of every city’s wine scene.  Look around you and find people like this who are genuinely excited about  wine and cuisine.  These are people who want to learn- people who want to have an inspiring conversation about wine and flavors and life.  My kind of people.

Come join us!

“Champagne Wishes and Country Fried Dreams” @faithandflower

Hooper and Hoagland

Wine Director Jared Hooper and Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland

My passion in life is Italian wine, but a close second-place might be Champagne.  Cold, cutting acidity and lively bubbles.  Refreshing, yet serious at the same time.  Aromatically superior to any other category of sparkling wine.  Equally ready to lay down and develop for years in your cellar, or to be chilled immediately and enjoyed.

 How can you not be enthralled and seduced by Champagne?Menu-1

I had the chance to taste some real blockbusters the other night with Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland, who presented the wines of Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, and Krug at Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles.  The night was all about celebrating Champagne in all its elegant finesse and bawdy playfulness.  A night of serious wines, down-home cooking, and enthusiastic revelers.


Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV, paired with creamed corn topped with corn bread which had been smothered in fresh white truffles.  Yep.  It worked.

I love food pairing with Champagne.  There is so much to work with!  These are not typically delicate wines- they have backbone and verve!  Try Champagne with a grilled steak.  Or a cheeseburger.  Or pizza.  Seriously.  As Mike Hoagland reminded us, “these are wines equally well-enjoyed in a fancy restaurant as they are from a paper cup on a beach.”  Agreed.  And don’t relegate your Champagne to brief stints as the welcoming party-opener before the “serious stuff” is opened.  These wines are serious.  And fun.  And they deserve their time in the spotlight!


Salty, spicy, herbed popcorn with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV.

I love the idea of taking a “luxury”or “specialty” product like “Champagne” and delivering it in an unorthodox way.  Opening with a glass of Ruinart (Champagne’s oldest winery), and serving something fun and addicting like this salty popcorn really struck a chord with me.  Thank you, Jared Hooper & Chef Michael Hung, for giving me something I want to eat with this fine glass of wine.  Oh, and double thank you for making it a great pairing that truly highlights the wine.

And thank you most of all for not taking it all too seriously, and for letting me enjoy myself while I experience this excellent food & wine combination!


Veuve Clicquot Vintage 1985.  En Magnum.

What do you pair with the most impressive, Vintage Champagne in your wine dinner?

Well, (and this is why I am a little bit in love with Chef Michael Hung right now), why not a brilliant little play on the classic green bean casserole?  Bright, snappy green beans cooked to a perfect al dente, kissed by some kind of creamy-mustardy sauce and spiked with radishes and tarragon.  Topped with the requisite fried onions, this was the most platonic incarnation of that classic holiday casserole I have ever tasted.  And it was brilliant with the wine.  Just enough acidity to match the wine- more than enough toothsome umami to play nicely with the bubbles.  Perfection.


High-class green beans.

At this point in the dinner I started to really get into the wine and food pairings.  It was playful- like being on a really fancy picnic. Post-modern foodie stuff.  With great lighting and ambiance. And beautiful people. And perfectly polished stemware.Krug-1

Krug Grande Cuvée NV. Classic guilty-sommelier-pleasure.  Paired with…



Continuing in our salute to unconventional (yet brilliant) food and wine pairings, we arrived at the main course- Krug Grande Cuvée NV Champagne and Fried Chicken.  As Samantha Dugan (Champagne Specialist Extraordinaire) would say- Champagne and fried chicken is a pairing everyone should know about.  There is something special about that salty friend crunch paired with those happy, brightly-lit bubbles.  That acidity and bright fruit rolling over a grease-slicked palate.  It’s so happy.  I urge you to find the best fried chicken possible, and to enjoy it with the most awesome bottle of Champagne you can get your hand on.

You will not be disappointed.  And you’ll probably have a lot of fun.Jared HooperJared Hooper, Wine Director and General Champagne Advocate.

DemiSec-1Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV

paired seamlessly with a Not-Your-Mammas-Miso-Apple-Crumble.


Mike Hoagland treated us to a sweet ending, using the Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV to highlight Chef Hung’s golden, flaky dream of a desert.  He decanted the Demi-Sec, explaining that this helps to loosen the bubbles a bit, rounding out the fruit in the Pinot Meunier-heavy wine.  Mike also informed us this “pays homage to the Widow Clicquot, who is the inventor of record for the riddling table, which allowed for Champagne wines to become significantly clarified during the riddling process.”  I think she’d be impressed with the food and wine pairing, as well as the dramatic fanfare.  The ritual of decanting is pretty sexy stuff.


I love that there are people like Mike Hoagland and Jared Hooper in the world of wine, urging you to have fun with whatever you’re consuming.  Drink what is delicious.  Eat what you like.  Learn a little something while you’re at it.

And please, enjoy more Champagne!

La Sibilla: Lessons in Salt and Acidity

Falanghina and  Salty Fried Fish

Photo by Oliver McCrum- Falanghina and Salty Fried Fish.

One of my favorite terroir-minded producers from the area around Naples is La Sibilla, a winery owned and operated by 5 generations of the Di Meo family.  I love Southern Italian wines, especially from Campania.  This is where you can go deep into Italy’s history, and uncover the really authentic, time-tested grape varietals.  More importantly, you’ll also find winemakers here like La Sibilla who love and respect these local grapes, and with them continue to craft elegant and authentic wines.  Volcanic ash dominates the soil, the sea surrounds the vineyards and the local viticultural practices all combine to highlight what makes these wines special: salt and acidity. 

I became enthralled by the La Sibilla wines after having found them in California, thanks to Oliver McCrum, Italian Wine Importer Extraordinaire.  Rule of thumb if you love Italian wines- get to know your importers.  If you find one whose palate you appreciate, you’ll likely enjoy most of their wines.  For me, Oliver McCrum is a great example.  I will buy anything they import!download

I really love Falanghina, and the original version from La Sibilla is truly special.  As Oliver says on his site, “This is an excellent seafood wine. I also drink it as a dry aperitif, with olives and salami, while deciding what to make for dinner.”  

Basically, you should never be without a bottle of this wine in your fridge!

I also found a beautiful 2-minute video created by Farm+Cellar, an amazing marketing group dedicated to wine and agricultural endeavors.  These vidoes are truly the next best thing to actually walking the vineyards with these producers.  Watch this- if only just to see what a 100-year-old Falanghina vine tree looks like…

I was already enchanted by these wines, but now I am also in love with Vincenzo Di Meo, his sun-drenched vineyards, his adorable accent, and his beautiful family.  Even at such a young age his philosophy is wise beyond years, “I am 24.  She [the vine] is 100.  I cannot change her.  I can only take the best she can give to me.”  Now that’s some wine-making I can get behind.DiMeo

Photo by Oliver McCrum- Famiglia Di Meo of La Sibilla

Let the vineyards speak for themselves.  Invite us into your home, your vineyard. Let us discover what is so special about your particular place in the world- your history, your family.

Grazie, famiglia Di Meo.

(If you like what you see in this viedo, and you’d like to support Farm+Cellar in their good work, vote for them here, to help them win a business grant from Chase.  Come on, you know you liked it!)

Grandma Lorraine will teach you a lot about wine.

Mugsy-1I am Italian by ethnicity on my father’s side of the family.  Grandma Lorraine is his mother, my Calabrese nonna.  She’ll remind you she’s Calabrese too- anytime it’s convenient.  Mostly when she’s being stubborn about something and she’s using her cultural heritage to remind you she won’t change her mind about something. “I’m Calabrese,” she says as she raps her fist on the table.  “You know what they say about the Calabrese.  Hard-headed.” Continue reading

Kings of the Carso. @winestories

Benjamin Zidarich and his Vitovska

Friends of mine are going to the Carso soon.  I am ecstatic for them because, even as this is a place I have not yet seen in person, I feel like I know it already.  There will be a stiff breeze from the Adriatic and an electric, razor-sharp quality to the sunlight here.  There will be lots of wine, cured pork, lovely cheeses.  Bright red soil crunching under your feet.  A salty brine- electricity in the air.  

The wines from the Carso are authentic.  There’s no other word for them.  They are stone and sweat and dirt and rainwater.  They’re not orange wines because it’s hip to make orange wine.  Skin-contact is a necessary tool for ensuring native fermentation- not a political statement.  Color is secondary to the very nature of the wine. Stick your nose in a glass of Vitovska and you won’t care about the color anyway- it’s beguiling and smells of jasmine and tea leaves and sea-spray.  There’s acidity like a lightening bolt and a lingering umami that clings forever on your palate. The Carso is calling you!

Continue reading

Bubbles by Benanti

Benanti Bubbles 1-1

I had the pleasure of tasting this bottle, Benanti’s Noblesse, a few weeks ago after we found it thanks to Dan Pirelli, at the Wine Hotel in Los Angeles.  100% Carricante grapes, 100% Etna.  Who says great sparkling is only made with Chardonnay?! Crisp and yeasty with a great acidity- this wine is masterful and will age well for many years. Although it’s not uncommon to find producers in Italy who work mainly with still wines, conducting sparkling wine “experiments” on the side, this bottling is clearly way more than a side project.   I love finding first-class bubbles in unexpected places!

When Giuseppe Benanti saw my picture posted to Facebook he was happy to comment:

“26 years ago, when I decided to take up this Ancient Family Passion of wine-making, I gave myself a goal: To make wine on Etna, from Etna, and to protect the great capacity of the terroir of our mountain!  …We stayed straight on this path, and we took no shortcuts.  Having been a pharmacist for 42 years prior, I can assure you of the time and effort we took to research and analyze various techniques- all of which were very familiar to me. Continue reading