The past week has been busy as hell. I have found myself in countless restaurants in South Texas, West Texas and North Texas. That would be like saying you were in Champagne, Languedoc and Bordeaux. Or Piemonte, Tuscany and Sicily. And in fact, we have been tasting wine from those regions of Italy. And then some.
I was talking to a restaurateur today and he was grilling me about pasta. He really seemed to value my thoughts about the subject. I was humbled but honored. Likewise, I hope some of the wine directors I have run across this week are as curious about the wine regions I am so fond of. I have had tutoring this week from two of the best in the business, Bobby Stuckey and Damon Ornowski, both master sommeliers and both living in Colorado. They also travel extensively. They shed some light on the endless process of refinement.
1) What trends are you noticing in other cities, such as Milan, San Francisco, Chicago, Birmingham, Portland, Paris or Macau?
2) What are some of the emerging new grape varieties that you are starting to see having some traction in the market and in wine programs across the world?
3) What older, more common wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chianti Classico, etc.) are resuscitating and why? What are the attractive ones achieving stylistically?
4) How are wine directors pricing their wine in places you are working? Are margins shrinking? And there more successful ways of marketing wine by the glass besides by the glass?
5) What is missing on my list? What missed opportunities am I letting get away to my competition down the street or across the country? Do you see any blind spots? Any excessive “wear in the carpet?”
6) Is there a wine country that I need to learn more about for my own personal wine education?
7) Are there trends I need to avoid like the plague?
8) What should I do about people who are asking for sweet red wines (and not for dessert)? And what sweet red wines are really great finds?
9) What direction do you see Napa Valley red wine going in the next 5-10 years?
10) What should I do about Bordeaux?
Tonight I was in an account, very hard to get into. But they accommodated me and my guest. We dined well, drank well and tipped well. And we were made to feel as warm and welcome as all of the other customers in the place. That’s really all we are looking for. That we can also help turn a little profit for the restaurateur is even better. But we all want to feel valued.
When I was a kid I’d go to the Boys Club and look for Vince Jadulang and try and play Ping-Pong with him, because he was the best player in the club. And he kicked my butt more than a time or two. But he also schooled me in how to be a better Ping-Pong player. Eventually I got pretty good. And then younger players would seek me out.
It’s all relative. Damon and Bobby are at the top of this here wine game, but they feel the need need to play up as well as the rest of us. If you are a young wine professional, seek out the better players, mine their talents. If they are any good they will gladly share their knowledge with you. After all, sooner or later we all have to pass this off to someone. And the only way this whole thing progresses is if the newer generation gets better than the previous one. Capisce?
written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy