Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Cautionary Tale - The Insolent Sommelier Pt. IV

"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." – Confucius

My boss, Brad, convinced the powers that be to let me hire a trio of Italian specialists, as our Italian wine business had mushroomed in the past 10 years. Where it was once hard to sell Italian wine across the board, now Italian wine was tres chic, even with some French dining establishments. So, I went about the business of putting a team together. It went well, even if it took longer than my boss had wanted. I had the business of a tonsillectomy that got in between interviews and negotiations. But once we had that all sorted out, I had a good, solid, team.

Part of the mechanism of ramping up the validity of the team and their street cred was to enroll them in the Italian wine specialist program at Italian Wine Central. The head education honcho in my company wanted as many credentialed specialists as we could muster. It was so mandated. And the team got after it and jumped through the hoops. It was, and is, a terrific program, and one I recommend highly for anyone wanting to further their skills in understanding Italian wine at a higher level.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A Cautionary Tale - The Insolent Sommelier Pt. III

“Ah, how the seeds of cockiness blossom when soiled in ignorance.”― Steve Alten, The Loch

Back from a working trip to Italy, I invited Segundo to a wine tasting. We had a winemaker in town and I was told he liked to rub shoulders with celebrity vintners. He accepted.

I knew enough to leave him alone when he was tasting. He usually brought a consort with him, to provide cover. I observed they liked to keep to themselves, to draw little attention to any observations they made about the wine, the venue or the other wine buyers in the crowd. Segundo’s lack of confidence saw to it that he was duly shielded from anyone who might know more about Italian wine, or wine in general. He usually avoided me in those situations. I would ease the sail in order to provide him with ample room for his maneuvering comfort.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Cautionary Tale - The Insolent Sommelier Pt. II

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” -  Wayne Dyer

For whatever reasons Segundo Sguattera ventured into the wine buying world, he did so without the proper preparation. I say this because everything he learned from the chef at Le Chant du Coq was based on a truculent foundation. Several of the veterans in the wine trade tried to welcome Segundo into a more amicable world, the one which many of us experienced, from the vineyard to the importer to the distributor. We were all part of a team, pulling to make sure the farmer’s efforts at the source wouldn’t be for naught. After all, the vigneron has to deal with the weather, with labor, with inflation, with competition, and with the changing economic and physical environment. At the end of the supply line, we want to give the producer a soft landing.

But Segundo would have nothing to do with it. I believe at the basis of all of it was his insecurity and ignorance. Which is folly, for who starts knowing everything? Or anything, for that matter? Segundo was a wounded creature from the get-go. His history and his ingrained maladies only served to further nourish a burgeoning inferiority complex, resulting in a boundless spate of anger, mistrust and furtive behavior. As I said, he wasn’t a pleasant person to be around. I reckon he, as well, felt that about himself. And his buying process reflected that.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

A Cautionary Tale - The Insolent Sommelier Pt. I

This is a tale about a most miserable wine steward

When Primo Sguattera first saw his son, Segundo, in the hospital, he couldn’t recognize any similarity between him and the newborn. He was so small, and remained that way into adulthood. Primo thought Segundo might not be his son, more likely the pairing between his wife and the weather-beaten scarecrow out in the corn fields outside of Tijuana where they lived.  But his wife swore she’d had no other man, even if Primo was less than the most desirable choice for a husband and a father. Fate had it that way.

Segundo’s mother, Maria Teresa, was a mother and a martyr. She had been named by her grandmother, who had the ability to sense the future. So, she prepared Maria Teresa for her future, giving her a name that would explain, in two words, her life to herself. That made for little happiness, if indeed at least there was some clarity to it all.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

And the Beat Goes On – A Propitious Epiphany in Trento

For Roger…

There are those moments that sneak up and drop a lifechanging effect on you. It might be something as simple as the change of the light upon a tree you look at every day. And then suddenly, as summer merges into autumn, it’s as if you’d never seen it with such clarity. Or it could be a simple sniff of a wine that transports you back to when you were a teenager, sitting in a darkened theatre next to your first girlfriend. All of a sudden, your arm is around her shoulder and the two of you are getting ready for your first kiss. All from a dessert wine from Friuli, or Denmark.

So it was, one spring evening in the town of Trento. I wasn’t looking for it. But something was stalking me, waiting for me at the bar where I eventually sat down at.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Your Ice Cream is Melting

I’ve wandered so far off the island, at this point, for those of you who are still stopping by, here goes nothing.

I’m fixated on this relationship thing, post-career. And along with that, the transactional piece of those relationships we thought possibly more than they were.

It has hit home more than once in the last year or so. I’ve allowed for the epoch we find ourselves in: pandemic, social striation, a general turbulence in the balance of things on earth. Probably not something new, in geologic time. But for those of us in the here and now, it can be a bit disconcerting. Oh, and also, our ice cream is melting.

So, when I saw this post from an erstwhile associate, it gave me pause.

“Community. It’s a concept that is lost on a lot of people these days. I have been a part of many communities but none so important and fulfilling as the amazing people I have met in my life in food, wine and hospitality. A special bunch they are. I have always appreciated how people in the biz would genuinely applaud other people’s successes. You don’t find that in all industries.”

I know that feeling. Probably there are some reading who do, too. It felt real. It was real. Then.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Wine, Women and Watches – Gathering Joy in the Long Lunch

I’m kinda in a mood. Not the Glenn Miller kind. More of a Billie Eilish/David Byrne kinda mood. I’m played out with wine writing. Can’t read it. Can barely write it myself, these days. I’m so doggone burnt out with stupid words and clichés, and drama and asinine tasting notes, and the same old repetitive crap, all the blasted time, parading as wine (and food) writing. Who in hell cares what anyone drank (or ate) in Jackson Hole or Bucaramanga? The narcissists and cliché curators have taken over wine and writing about it, at least on the open internet. It’s done, they’ve killed the “thrill” of it for me. And, from the notes I get from others, I’m not alone. Not that it should matter. I am an introvert, after all. In the past two years, I’ve learned to live in relative solitude.

That’s why my weekly lunch, outside the home, is probably a good idea for my mental health. It’s like going to confession, but with food and wine.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

What makes a wine great?

From the archives

"They say that life itself is really just the dead on vacation." - Tom Waits

Over the years my ideas about wines have changed a little. A lot less than I would have thought. Looking back over 35+ years of seriously tasting wine, there have been moments when I tasted greatness. What was it about those moments? Was it the stage the wine was in, a moment coinciding with its peak? Was it the season? Was it my physiology? Was it a magical confluence of all the above and more? Or was it just dumb luck?

What makes a wine great? It’s in the back of my mind all the time, a touchstone sought and rarely found. Not that the pursuit of great wines is my primary task. I must constantly taste and evaluate wines for my work that needn’t be great. They just need to be good enough, or good values, or in-offensive. Not all days are vacation days. But this is not the time for that discussion. Today, I am pursuing greatness. So what is it that evades these pages, darts about, zips off the screen like a dragonfly or a refraction from a light source? Where does one find this greatness factor?

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Are You Collecting or Connecting?

From the archives

As I look through the wines in my closet, or study a wine collection from a deceased doctor or lawyer that the widow is trying to make sense of, I wonder about the nature of one’s relationship with wine. Odd to say it that way, as wine isn’t a person, how can one have a relationship with it? What one can examine, though, is one’s way of relating to wine and the people and places that make up the story of wine.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

By the Bottle: Brian Cronin

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

Antarctica 2021

I think it was at a Society of Wine Educators conference where I first encountered Brian Cronin. Since then, I’ve followed his path. He’s deep into wine education, but not limited to wine alone. An accomplished sommelier, chef, photographer (all the photos here are his), a long-distance runner (@runningwineguy) and a world traveler. Brian’s segment here is probably the one most similar to the By the Book segments that I read every Sunday in the NY Times: Concise and to the point – no bullshit. Please welcome Brian into the wine cave.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Wine Jars Filled With Silver – Bolgheri’s 25th Anniversary Fête de Compli

It’s quite easy to consider the time we are living in is somehow unique. A world-wide health crisis, both physical and psychological. Fluidity among many people in regards to their version of events, and truth itself. Reverberations felt when encountering ostentatiousness. Reluctance, or perhaps apprehension, to return to a state of being where all the present dangers and fears cease to exist. And restlessness, the urge to get back on the dance floor, to wander among strangers, to sit, to talk, to eat, to drink, to commune. All of this swirling about many of us, those of us who are not fighting for our life on a ventilator in Boise or Belluno. All this desire to reclaim what was lost, to catch a glimpse of hope, to dream in real time. To return to “things the way they were.”

Thursday, September 23, 2021

By the Bottle: Jeff Siegel

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

Jeff Siegel is the Rubik’s Cube of wine writers. Every time I think I’ve getting close to having the colors lined up, the next move flips me back into chaos. Jeff is a bit of a puzzle to me, and that’s kind of why I like him. You never know what’s going to pop up. Oh sure, he says he’s “someone who has made cheap wine his life’s work and isn’t embarrassed about the choice.” But he loves the expensive stuff too. It’s just not his beat. As the Wine Curmudgeon, Jeff has carved out a niche, and has actually monetized his blog, something most bloggers have failed to do. He also has a book, which proves that not just Jamie Goode can get a wine book published these days. Anyway, I digress. Let’s welcome the man who questions what really makes a wine “great” but is a stickler for it having to be “honest.”

What wines do you have standing up right now?

Almost all my wines are standing up. When one writes about wine that people buy in supermarkets to drink that night, there’s not much need to put anything down.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

50 years ago ~ notes from Rome ~ September, 1971

It had been almost a month since I’d first arrived into Italy. I’d crisscrossed the country - down, then up, then down again - and now back up to Rome, to ultimately catch my flight back home to California. I’d wasted a little time on trains, and in Florence and Positano. But I also relaxed a little bit and got into “Italian time.” I imagined, that if all went well, I’d be back someday. I didn’t feel the need to “see everything” and “do everything,” an affliction which inculcates most American tourists. I’d find a way. Little did I know then, that fifty years later I had been able to devise a life and a career which took me back to Italy, on average, more than once a year for fifty years.

What Italy did to me on that first visit, my baptism of sorts, was to let me know there was a world outside of California, that was every bit (and then some) worth my time. Or not, if I chose not to. It was all up to me to pursue Italy. She wasn’t going to chase me. I knew that drill. I got it. I’d be back, someday.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

By the Bottle: Esther Mobley

Sunday, September 12, 2021

50 years ago ~ notes from Positano ~ September, 1971

Positano ~ 1971
It had been several weeks since I’d first landed in Italy. I’d seen Rome, I’d seen Florence, I’d visited my family and seen lots of Sicily. I needed to see some water, to swim in the sea, and to kick back before going home. Positano called.

Real Time Analytics