Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Our Fondest Dream

Benvenuto Brunello, Once Again

The road from Siena to Montalcino was pleasant enough. It was early on a Saturday morning and my colleague and I had an appointment at Castello Banfi.

Banfi, the giant. Banfi, the interloper. Banfi, the preserver. What started out as a giant experiment to reclaim some land and lost glories has led to a revolution in Tuscany. And Italy.

Montalcino ~ Early 1980's

My first trip to Montalcino in the early 1980’s was a sobering experience. Montalcino wasn’t just a sleepy little hillside town back then. It was in a coma. It was depressing and dank, and it seemed that the life and energy of the place was hiding. I thought I had landed in some poor southern Italian hill town, not Tuscany. In fact, Montalcino was one of the poorest hill towns in all of Italy.

Now it is one of the wealthiest hill towns in all of Italy. It's alive and well.

What happened? The Mariani’s, that’s who. For starters.

Wine geeks and skeptics can stop here and surf on. That’s what I would have done in years past. Just as when I had been by the place a few times over the years, but was always scurrying from one tiny producer to another, and never quite making it inside.

At one of those small estates with a farmer friend, as he looked down over the valley which once had been unclaimed. Now it was row after row of tended vines, different clones, field research that was benefiting the whole community. “What are they doing down there, what kind of wine is that they are making?” he asked me.

His family had lived in this spot for generations, subsisting off the land by farming, hunting and training dogs for other hunters. Only recently, in the last 15 years had they seen their fortunes change. Their lives were getting better. Yes, they were still simple peasant folk, but honest and innocent. And fortunate that these “Americano’s” stepped in when they did.

When we arrived at the tasting room of the winery, our tour guide had been unable to make our appointment. A wedding in Florence called, but someone else would be our hosts. Wandering around the Napa-like tasting room, with self-guided displays and history of the project, it seemed so unusual in this place. This seemed more like what I had seen in California with one difference. The place was filling up with Italians and they were loving it.

The genius of this place isn’t that it looks like California, for the reality is, many places in California make their places look like this. The brilliance was in the dogged determination and vision by the Mariani family and all their team to pursue the marketing of Italian wine to America in this scale. And to be rewarded by the Italians with their admiration and yes, envy. The Mariani family is the template, and great hope, by those of us who toil daily in the pursuit of getting more Americans to embrace Italian wine and culture. They also are an inspiration to those of us who have battled with the Italian producer to try and get them to understand the American market, and to market to the Americans in a way that will be successful. In this way, Banfi and the Mariani family have shown Italy a better way, not the only way, but an extremely successful way to make it in America.

Our hosts showed up in a few minutes and to our surprise, it was John and Pam Mariani themselves. They live on the property about half the time, and they took the two of us, old sales dogs that we are, and showed us what we have been putting on wine lists and in wine shops all these years. My colleague (pictured above, with the Mariani's) has an even longer relationship “in the field” with these wines, and he is very respected for his hard work. John and Pam were wonderful hosts and a pleasure to be around, to hear the stories, to “get” a real sense of their vision and their plan, their fondest dream. Grazie, John and Pam, grazie mille.

After a complete tour, winery, vineyards, barrel room, even the balsameria, we headed to their trattoria, La Taverna, to taste the wines with food. Now I know not everyone has this kind of opportunity to taste the wines of an estate with the owners on a Saturday afternoon in their very own wonderful trattoria. But I have put some time in this field the past 30 years, so I'm not going to feel bad about it. And you can go to the winery and make a reservation in the Taverna for lunch or the Ristorante for dinner and have the wines from the Banfi estate. So, you can do it too.

The pleasure in all this is that wine and food and friendship and work and love all do weave together sometimes, on the wine trail in Italy, and this was one of those magical moments. It pretty much took me by surprise, and a good one at that. Some preconceptions and assumptions I’d had were carved away that day. I have a whole new respect and appreciation, not only for what the Mariani’s have done for Tuscany, but for how they paved the way, for folks like myself, to preach the gospel of Italian wine. They blazed the trails; we’re keeping the light burning.

John Mariani said it best, "We're leaving life a bit richer than when we entered into it, and we're giving more than what we're taking."

Slide Show

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Wine Lover

Wine? My first love? What one wants to say is really impossible to tell. It was a soft and easy love, it was forgiving and unforgettable. It was lightning in the first few moments. It was sweet and sassy and I loved it. And then it was gone, the cellar was empty, the bottles had all been drunk. There was no more wine in the barrel.

The wine in the barrel was about 11.9% and very mellow. Red, but not too strong, not too heavy, just the perfect fit. For 14 years we enjoyed each others admiration and love. How can a wine love? Have you never had a wine that you loved so much that you felt it might not be just a one way thing? They say wine is a living thing, yes?

To me, this wine was alive and was very much a woman.
She was French with English beginnings. People thought her to be Italian, so did I. She was unique in all my life of tasting and experiencing the different vintages and cuvees. But she was not a blockbuster, not bombastic or capable of great hedonistic pleasure. She was very refined but much understated, went with every occasion, loved by all who sat at the table and supped with her.

Never written up by the great wine critics, seldom at the table of a wine master, she wasn’t important in that way. But those masters who knew her knew of an enduring and extraordinary character with great balance and length. All in harmony with the stars and the soil.
After 14 years of enjoying vintage after vintage, the barrels finally were emptied. She had no more wine to give, she was gone. That year the harvest all over Italy was one of the greatest, but her wine wasn’t made that year. So I went to search for the hidden vineyard of the wine lover. I searched in every place from the southernmost islands to the alpine meadows. In Puglia, Calabria, Tuscany, Piedmont. In the hills of Umbria there was a sign of rejuvenation, but the messenger by the river sadly confirmed nowhere was I to find it like it had been.
Then, in a deep sleep, in a dream, an image appeared to me. It wasn’t where I was looking for. I had taken on every vintage from every appellation, looking in every little village, every hillside vine, every cloister, every abbey. I was looking to replicate the experience and it wasn’t possible. I was looking too hard when all along she was sitting there, waiting for me to open my heart back to her and to all that I had professed this love for.
There wouldn’t be lightning bolts this time. This wouldn’t be as easy; it might not be so mellow or balanced. That was once upon a time.

She spoke to me in the glass, as I took in her perfume and looked into her ruby slipper eyes. "I was made for love and for lovers and if you must love without me, you must love. If I am not here, it’s only that you think that. I have been here for thousands of years and will be here for many thousands more after you are gone. I will wait for you on a farther shore. Until then, you are the bearer of the spirit of the wine lover and it is a favor I must ask of you until we meet again."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bar-B-Q Caesar & Pizza Massage

“You’ve got the best job in the world,” a friend wrote to me the other day. This year has started off pretty well, I’ll say that. I don’t remember a time when I have tasted so much high quality Italian wine in so short a period, except for during Vinitaly.

Maybe the wines are getting better, maybe I am just appreciating them more. Ever since the last trip to Tuscany in October, some kind of shift, in the way I look at and relate to Italian wines, has taken place.

I am sensing the place of the vine more in the wine. Something that one cannot always capture in a restaurant.

The picture above was taken on a walk in a neighborhood nearby. At first I wondered if this could really be true. Everybody loves pizza, everybody loves getting a massage. How about combining the two? The pizza dough and the viscera, both getting a work over. I could see endless possibilities for the wine list.

How about some Lacryma Christi, or some Bramaterra, a little room for Leverano, maybe some Gravina. Of course we’ll need some Squinzano and some Squillace. Mamertino will need to be represented, as will be Lacrima Di Morro d’Alba. Some Enfer d’Arvier and Bagnoli di Sopra should be included. Also some Valgella, as well as covering our Asti. We’ll have to Ghemme, as well as Primitivo, not to forget Matera from the Masseria. That should be enough DOC wines for this happening little Pizzeria.
The wines that my friend saw us tasting were from Vineyard Brands. Originally started by Robert Haas as a Burgundy and Rhone importer, once in a while they veer off into Italy. Caparzo and their other estate, Borgo Scopeto is in the portfolio. La Doga is a new Maremma winery along with Castello di Corbara from Umbria. Castello di Corbara is a wonderful project with Franco Bernabei overseeing the winemaking. Over at Borgo Scopeto Vittorio Fiore consults, but on site is a gentleman who is pure Tuscan. Pronounces his c’s like an “h”. He's what holds the soup together over there.

Borgo Scopeto has a Relais up the hill from the winery. Very hoity-toity, very fonzerific.
The Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico has an advantage. The folks who own the property understand the finer things in life. They also appreciate the basic simplicity of a wine reflecting its locale. Open up a bottle of the wine and you are transported to Castelnuovo Berardenga. The gentleman, whose name I cannot remember, while fluent in French and appreciative of the tradition of French winemaking, is a guardian of the terroir of this land. The wines must have that energy, or they will be like so many of the manufactured Chiantis that abound.

Like so many of the Italian restaurants in so many places around America. Give it an Italian sounding name, dazzle 'em with b.s. We, in America, tart it up, put up a web site and throw in a little spin and before you know it folks are grilling lettuce and called it a Bar-B-Q Caesar salad.

Last night at dinner with my friend Enrico, he put it well. Speaking of a little place in Abruzzo, he said, “I’d be happy with a La Sosta to go to, once in a while.” La Sosta, I first went there nearly 20 years ago, and today it's still as wonderful and simple, hasn't pimped itself, hasn't fallen into the balsamic booby trap.
When are we going to “get on the good foot” for Italian wine and food? We need a James Brown of Italian wine.

Maybe we could draft Roberto Bava for that role. Certainly he has the music down. And the wine.

Roberto, are you listening?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Corporal Snark's Insight Wednesday

Garlic, Special Offerings & Planning Ahead

Last week, I was invited to lunch at a restaurant while it was being reviewed. I was really digging in - hummus, baba ghannouj, tabbouleh, typical Sicilian fare. I think it was the strong coffee with cardamom that sent me over the edge, along with the garlic that had been embedded in the eggplant. For the next 10 or so hours, I flailed around like a walrus that had swallowed a boulder.

Yesterday, I went for a souvlaki chicken dish, and again I was snarfing it up like there was no tomorrow. This time it was the thinly sliced onions and a bitter espresso.

OK, so I cannot eat garlic if it is raw. Or onions. In fact, the rock above, from Beaucastel, or the razor blade, would be easier for me to digest. But those restaurant folks keep jabbing me with too much garlic and onions.

This week, I was talking to some of my colleagues. A few days earlier, I had put out a trade offering on all the Brunellos our company had available. Erroneously, I had listed an item that had been set aside for a national restaurant program. We had cases listed, twice, of the same wine but one was almost double the price. One of our clients called in and wanted all of the wine at the lesser price, and wanted us to assure them that they would have an exclusive on those wines. Oh, and by the way, could we sweeten the deal by offering a further discount? So a wine that is normally $57, but might be $31, you’d like all of it, and you’d like a better discount?

How about no, and hell no?

I was driving around a fashionable area of town, looking for a new wine store. After circling the area about 3 times, I finally phoned a division manager and asked him to tell me where the place was. There was no sign. On one of the orbits, I got a call from another salesperson. It was regarding a special offer I put out about 10 days ago, on a producer of small-lot Riserva wines from Piedmont. The total allocation for the state is really about enough for one good account. Several accounts from across the state had called in, wanting all of the wine. One guy even wanted most of the wine, even though he didn’t really buy wine regularly. I guess the press got him excited about making money. You’d think he would be over the lottery-ticket fever of getting something for nothing? But, I digress.

Back to the salesperson who called during one of my orbits trying to find this cool new groovy wine shop. It seems this salesperson had a customer who wanted to buy some of that wine, too, but wanted to send an offer out to his retail clients to see if any of them “wanted” any. I explained to the nice salesperson that we probably wouldn't be able to help that person sell something on “consignment,” but that if he was interested in some of the wine to put their name in the hat. It was my impression that he didn’t really want to commit to buying any of the wine unless he got some customers, beforehand, to collect the money from. Meanwhile, all these groovy wonderful Italian wines in the photos are already in the warehouse. They stand waiting their turn to empty themselves all over the goblets and chalices of the urban wasteland. Poor little Barolos and sad little island wines.

A spell of rain and cold, some ice in the past week. The freeway pass in the picture has been in the news a lot. It’s high and not so dry, and people, in good weather, like to jump off it intentionally. During ice even more people's lives are imperiled. It makes the news folks feel like they’re doing a service to the community. Get me some warm soup without garlic. That would be a bigger help to me.
Winters here can be mild. Not so lately. Just 2 weeks ago I was taking out the Christmas tree, in NYC, from the apartment, in short sleeves. Union Square was lively, lots of apples and potatoes in the open market. Jackets were on sale at Filene’s Basement. Coats, too.

Yesterday, an appointment at a new and groovy steak house near the sports arena. The Stanley Cup was on display. We were there to work on a new Italian concept wine list. One of the partner/chefs was there, and we talked about the idea of embracing local sensitivities while pushing towards a greater expression of an original and truer kind of Italian menu. Sounded real good to me. Hmm.

Maybe it's time to bring out the picture of Modano, when we made pasta and served it in the said Stanley Cup, back in the last century. So long ago, it felt like the last millennia.
One of my colleagues was coming over tonight so we could finish up a quick turn-around proposal for the Italian concept we had met with earlier. He was running late. One of his customers ordered wine at the last minute for a party, and the truck was late. Now the truck had 47 delivery stops because a computer scheduled the poor driver to do so. Of course the client knew about this event more than a week before. The salesperson asked them to order it then, and the client procrastinated.

Before the salesman finally made it to my place, I got a call from another of his clients. It was now past 7 p.m. 'Seems the orders were all screwed up, keeps happening. He wanted the poor guy to come over. So I called the sales guy and tell him I can wait. He goes over to the client to make things right. He picks up a case of wine wrongfully ordered and sent. About three blocks from the client on his way to my home, the salesman gets a call from the account asking him to bring the wine back. He can use it now. Wtf!

Another client calls this poor guy up while we are trying to finish up this proposal. It is now 8:30 p.m. We still haven’t eaten dinner. Eggplant is in the oven (no garlic). Anyway, this client wants two cases of wine for his children’s school for a function on Feb 14. Hmm, donations for wine right about Valentine's Day. What a coincidence.

OK, so now we have finally gotten the first draft of the proposal done. The eggplant is ready, the salad is ready, we pop open a really nice bottle of Valpolicella and proceed to eat. My friend, his phone is still ringing. Another client is asking him about some menus that need to be laminated. It is now 9 p.m. This is more fun than being Jack Bauer.

And I have gone way over the 1,000-word limit this morning. Ain’t we got fun?

Just for fun, if you're still with me, I've embedded a fun little Lambretta commercial, which reminds me of the last week or so. Ciao for niao!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Italian Family Sundays ~ The Golden Age

Yesterday I was driving to the older part of town to visit a friend who was in the hospital. He has been a mentor to me, and as I was nearing the facility, I saw the old street where my dad and his family had lived more than 90 years ago. The picture above was taken there, 1313 Hall Street, Dallas, Texas, where my dad was born. The house is gone. All that remains of his original family is his sister, my aunt Mary. She's the little baby in my grandmother's arms.

My friend in the hospital was asleep, but he didn’t look well. He is dying. I know the look, the sound, the smell. If it were a wine, I would describe it thus: pale and a bit cloudy. The bouquet has faded with a light scent of dried rose petals and ripe, aged Asiago. In the flavors there is a little tinge of acid, the tannins are all gone, the fruit is fleeting, and the finish is swift.

Hopefully, my friend's will be as well. For his sake.

It had been raining, and the streets were damp and saturated. It reminded me of Ireland, of a hopeless and miserable Dublin after a night of drinking too much Guinness and too little sleep. Cold, dank, unredeemable.

I was near my friend's wine store and hadn’t eaten all day (it was 2 p.m.), so I stopped in to get a sandwich, and ended up working the floor.

The store was crowded, and Sinatra was crooning over the speakers. A young man came up to me and asked me about the Italian Club. I gave him the requisite information and encouraged him to stop in at one of the Wednesday wine tastings they are starting to do. Then he reached out his hand to shake mine. My hand was bleeding from a boxcutter that had slipped when I was arranging some wine case stacks. I didn't even know I had cut myself. All in a day's work, even if it is a Saturday. Or a Sunday. Grab some tape, cover the cut and back to arranging bottles and straightening shelf-talkers.

In the past, we didn’t need an Italian Club. We had the Family. On Sundays like today, my family would spend the day together, eating, drinking, carousing at the beach or in a vineyard somewhere, in Sicily, Dallas, Los Angeles.

My dad and his dad would hang out together. My son is in Vegas, working. My dad and his dad are gone. It’s Sunday again, and I’m sitting in my room writing about something that doesn’t exist anymore.

My dad and his dad were in business together, for a while. I don’t think my father liked that too much. Probably my grandfather wasn’t too clued in on his son’s aspirations. I think my dad probably wanted to be some kind of artist, maybe an actor. He certainly ended up in the right place for it, Los Angeles in the 1930’s. The golden age of American cinema. But my dad cobbled, and my grandfather acquired real estate, and the ship sailed on. E la nave’ va.

Once, when my grandfather had made a pile of money, he loaded his young family up and sailed back to Palermo for a while. He was now an American, and while he was going back to Italy for a while, he could never stay there indefinitely. He had crossed over into the American dream. He was making it big. In the picture he wasn’t more than 24 years old, but the opportunities that he had reached for paid off early. My son is now 30 years old. I wonder if the opportunities for his generation will ever afford him a chance for a good life. It doesn’t seem as bright now. Warmer, yes. Brighter, no.

When my mom and dad were married in 1936, they took their Ford roadster up the California coast. They were building the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. My parents were 21 years old, hopeful for happiness in their future and their children’s future. For their honeymoon, they tooled up Coast Highway 1 into a world we can only dream about now.

The Great Depression was receding, and war was a few years off. It was a moment to enjoy all that the possibility of life had to offer.

On those Sundays leading up to those years, they would spend sun-drenched days at the beach with their Wise Guy uncles and their Hollywood girlfriends. They were “A” listing through life, the Golden Age of the American Dream.
Cigarettes didn’t cause cancer, yet. Diseases were being conquered. The atom was being harnessed. Seat belts weren’t necessary. Front doors needn’t be locked. Out in the San Fernando Valley and Escondido and Cucamonga, the family would picnic in the vineyards. Note the happy faces and the glasses of wine.
My dad with some of the many women in his family. His Aunt Mary, his sister (my aunt) Mary, Josie and Cuccia, Tootsie and Anna, and Rosemary and on. So pristine in the simplicity of their happiness. Wine, women and song. And food, what great food. Local, fresh, not microwaved, not from a can. California, the Golden State in a golden age.
My mom and dad, with riding boots. Chances are, Dad made them. How much my son looks like him. I now am the age my father was when I wondered what it would be like to be his age. I think I might be happier at this age than he was, but his youth sure looked good from this vantage point. And my mom, the classic Italian beauty. She’s almost 93 and still pretty fired-up about life and living. Thank God she’s in good shape. My friend in the hospital, what I wouldn’t give for him to have been that fortunate, too.
My Aunt Josephine, on the right in the picture, next to her brother Felice and his East Texas bride, Reba. And my dad and mom. A night out on the town. Was it in Dallas? Or Hollywood? They look out at me from this picture as if to say, “Bring us your best bottle of Italian wine, and come sit down with us and enjoy your family.” If only I could, Uncle Phil. My mom and my Aunt Jo are both in their 90’s now, both in pretty good health. Still driving. But not in the rain.

My dad’s sister, Aunt Mary, called me today. She was checking in with me. Her husband passed away a few years ago. Her son-in-law died a little over a year ago. Last summer one of her grandsons had an accident in the ocean, and he too is gone. So she called to see if I was still here, still around.

Yes, Aunt Mary. Many of them are gone but we are still here, those of us on the edges of the photographs. Still ticking and kicking. Still dreaming and still looking for a way to make all this work out. I miss our Family Sundays. And so I sit here and put down these thoughts for the internets to hold, for another place and time and people. It was a great time, and the memories feed the heart and the soul, on Sundays, when the family is spread out far.

Friday, January 19, 2007

T.G.I.F ~ Thank God It’s Freezing

28° F, in the shade, too cold to swim, just right for Osso Buco

It seems like there are now 6 of you out there who want me to write about wine, instead of getting my proxies to gripe about the state of the wine business. Honestly, January of 2007 has been a jump-start for tasting some great wines. In less than a week I have tasted Castello dei Rampolla wines 3 times, all of the 2001 Barbaresco Riserva crus from Produttori, everything Marco di Bartoli makes, all of the wines from Elvio Cogno, Amarone from Le Ragose, Allegrini, Le Salette and Viviani. And that is just the tip of the iceberg during this winter.

Speaking of winter, down here in the South, earlier this week we experienced the Winter Surge, thanks to El Niño and Nancy Pelosi. For two days the region was blanketed with ice and bitter cold, but we cowboyed up and hit the streets.

A local restaurateur called up and wanted to taste some wines for his new list. He had just cooked up a slew of lamb Osso Buco, would we come by and show him some wines?

So I grabbed my Italian A-B-C wines: Amarone, Barolo and a Chianti in any other time. The wines were the 2000 Allegrini Amarone, 2001 Elvio Cogno Barolo and 2000 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon).

Along with this trio of red wines, I arranged to meet the Sicilian Trinity Gang members, otherwise known as “Tony the Bone”, “Joey the Weasel” and “Sausage Paul.” I’ve known these characters for some time now, and we meet from time to time so as to actually enjoy some of these wines with food. None of that swirl-and-spit routine. This time it is for the pure enjoyment of the grape.

We always talk about those days that are perfect for the big red wines from the Veneto, Piemonte and Toscana, and this was one of those days. The meal was also made for this kind of day, the kind I think about when a server is telling me the daily specials, usually in July or August, and invariably Osso Buco pops out of his or her mouth. Then I think of the day when a dish like that would be perfect. January, winter, bitter cold, ice on the roads. The perfect storm to match up with the wines and this particular type of hearty fare.

First we opened up the 2000 Sammarco from Rampolla. Biodynamic farming, perfect vineyard location, the birds and the bees love the place. Vines are planted close, Tachis anointed the property, gave his benediction to a plot of land that, in my opinion, is one of the first growths of Tuscany.

Tony the Bone liked the Sammarco. He was pounding it down pretty good, kind of like in the old days when we got a special on Carlo Rossi Paisano and it was his night to cook up spaghetti and meatballs. Yep, Tony was living large. All the while his phone is ringing with orders, so he's making money sitting there.

Next we opened up the 2001 Elvio Cogno Barolo. Owner Walter and Nadia Fissore (Elvio is her dad) along with Beppe Caviola (one of a handful of rock star winemakers in Italy) teamed up to bring to market a Barolo that we all can afford. From the Novello vineyard, 1400 feet in the air, with an extended, 35-day skin maceration. Joey the Weasel was liking this wine, wondering if Nadia had any unmarried sisters.He is planning to go to Vinitaly in March, and I’ve promised him a tour of Piedmont. The Weasel has a few things on his mind, and wine is one of them. He’s also looking forward to tasting the wine with his "new family."

Sausage Paul wasn’t too keen on the Barolo. He was planting his Riedel crystal straw in the Amarone and sticking to his guns. You don’t argue with Sausage Paul. He knows his way around a kitchen, and he’s pretty good with knives, if you get my inference. I have to say, the Amarone and the lamb was a magical moment. The 2000 Allegrini has scored big in all the right places. Decanter loved it, awarded it 4 stars. Gambero Rosso give it tre bicchieri. The American press slobbered all over themselves. It was a good time for Mariluisa and Franco Allegrini. Sausage Paul was purring like a big cat on the savannah.

Meanwhile, the Sammarco had opened up like the Red Sea in a Cecil B. DeMille movie. I hadn’t seen Tony the Bone this animated since he last had electro-shock therapy back in the 80’s.

All the while, Joey the Weasel was fantasizing about some Italian woman. Ever since Carlo Ponti died, he’s been all stirred up. I don’t know if he can wait until March.

Well, I’m closing in on 800 words and it’s 1:30 in the morning. I can smell the café latte as we pull off the autostrada into Alba. Good morning ~ bona notte.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

From My Lips ~ To God's Ear ?

Special commentary by guest reviewer Beatrice Russo, returning with one of my favorite genre’s - the rant. She shadowed me on a recent trip and now she's hooked on the wine biz- poor thing.

I knew it couldn’t last. A working long-weekend in New York, a whole slew of great wines to taste and talk about. And back to work. Back to folks who don’t return emails and whose voice mail is full, so that when you finally wait past their message, all you get is hung up on.

These are the same people who call and want Batar or Dal Forno or Giacosa Santo Stefano or Redigaffi? Oh yeah?

Well, open your email, answer your phones and read my lips: The great wines go to the great customers.

You’d think we were trying to give them the plague or take them for a one way trip around the Statue of Liberty.

All we're trying to do is bring up the level, of this horrendous laggard of a region, in terms of the appreciation of Italian greatness. But it seems all they can muster is a little lust for Sassicaia, a hankering for Ornellaia, the obligatory nod to Gaja and the unquenchable thirst for the inimitable Santa Margherita.

So they have a relationship with some importer 1,000 miles away. Well, folks, this is here (not Chicago or Vegas), you might want to readjust your holster before we step out in the high noon sun. 'Cause one of us is going to survive, and my money is on the native, the local, the one with their stakes tied down for the long haul.

So go ahead and let the Roman hucksters shake, rattle and roll all over you. Buy into their b.s. and load up on their plonk. I have a whole drawer full of matchbooks for restaurants that are now sleeping with the fishes. They ain't comin' back, Pauli.
What I've learned:

1)The wine world is a family; You don’t go against the family.

2)You want to come to the party? You’ve gotta be invited.

What are they teaching in Vegas?

By the way, anyone looking for a sommelier gig? You need to be female and gorgeous...don't worry about wine knowledge...if you qualify, email me - BR