What are you drinking? Jeremy Parzen at Sotto


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When the Italian restaurant and pizzeria Sotto first opened last year, wine director Jeremy Parzen came over to the table one night to talk wine. My guest that night not only read Parzen’s wine blog, Do Bianchi, but recognized him as a bass player and songwriter for the bands Nous Non Plus (recently featured on the new HBO series ‘Girls’) and Les Sans Coulottes

Parzen has a fabulously checkered resumé. He used to teach Italian and cinema at UCLA, has a Ph.D. from UCLA in Italian, etcetera, etcetera, and now writes a wine column for Houston Press in Texas. Oh, I should mention that he lives in Austin.


In an email exchange, he explains, “although most in the industry know me as a wine trade marketing consultant, I consider myself first and foremost an Italian wine and food historian and philologist. The scope of my blog,, is to give readers a humanist perspective onto the world of Italian food, wine and culture. I believe that ampelography (literally, the writing of grapes) and vinography are exegetic tools that help us to interpret and understand the human condition and experience.”

While that may sound like heady stuff, Parzen is a witty and approachable writer — and enormously curious about wine. He travels all over Italy and has poked around in most wine regions there, even the most obscure. And he brings all that first-hand knowledge to bear on Sotto’s wine list, which he co-curates with wine captain Rory Harrington. Parzen shows up at the restaurant two days a month to taste new wines, lead seminars for the waitstaff and work the floor. His next visit will be Wednesday and Thursday, May 16 and 17.

So what’s a guy from Austin doing as wine director at Sotto? The story goes back to 1987, when Parzen and Sotto co-owner and chef Steve Samson met during their junior year abroad in Italy and became fast friends. ‘I’ve followed his career as chef since his first years with Piero Selvaggio, and I was thrilled when he and chef Zach Pollack asked me to curate the wine list at Sotto.’

Right now Parzen and Harrington are just beginning to add wines to the list for the summer season. One bottle that has Parzen jazzed is the 1997 Cirò Riserva “Ripe del Falco” by Ippolito made from 100% Gaglioppo grapes grown in Cirò, Calabria. That’s way down south.

Says Parzen, “Cirò and its Gaglioppo are one of the most vibrant categories in southern Italian wine today and I love the fact that we can offer our guests a 15-year-old expression of this noble wine (at $90 a bottle).”

He’s also a big fan of the Basilicata Bianco by Re Manfredi “made from German-speaking (yes, German-speaking!) grapes grown at high altitude in the foothills of Mt. Vulture (an extinct volcano in Basilicata). It’s a blend of Müller-Thurgau and Traminer, grapes traditionally associated with South Tyrol (Alto Adige) but ideal for the high-elevation vineyards in this southern region. It’s bright, with great acidity (a must for me), and it has white fruit and white stone fruit on the nose and in the mouth. A clean crisp refreshing, however unusual, wine. It’s $14 a glass.”


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-- S. Irene Virbila