Sunday, January 13, 2008

Choppin' in the Woodshed

A Nor’easter is bearing down on NYC, planes are arriving late and I am packed and ready to catch a 7:00 am flight, right into the middle of the Big Slushy Apple, tomorrow morning. Hopefully, I will get there in time for the events. Importer Vias is celebrating their 25th anniversary and the wine will be flowing at the portfolio tasting and dinner to follow.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon on the floor of a local wine store specializing in Italian wines. From time to time, I get in there and roll up my sleeves and sell some boxes, it’s really a lot of fun. Then when things slow down, I attack a section or two and try to make sense of the set. Back in the old days, when I was a retail rat, re-sets were a part of weekly life. So it is second nature to me. Yesterday I took on the Brunello and SuperTuscan section. It seems some of the distributor’s salespeople don’t know a Brunello from a Tignanello, fancy that?

OK, so this will be a short rant followed by some wine notes. Warning: This is not a short post.

I was really concerned to see folks in the store looking to buy wines, expensive wines, and they were having a hard time finding the wines that correlated with the shelf talker. When I got down and looked with a couple of customers, I even was having a hard time finding the wines. But now it is all in order. That will last about 2 days. It’s really a shame, because the salespeople who just throw a wine in any old place really do a disservice to many people. First, to the consumer, making it hard for them to find the wine. Secondly, to the hard working, never-take-a-vacation store owners, who invest money in product, only to see it be merchandised not in a user-friendly way. Let’s see, we’ll just put an Amarone in the Barolo section, where there is a hole. Or let’s put a Sangiovese in with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo section. Thirdly, the salesperson is doing a disservice to their employer and their importer and their winemakers, because the wines get lost and all that hard work getting the wine to the front line gets hidden in a bunker, never to see the light of day. It has been like this for as long as I have been in the business, but it really is a primitive problem, one that online retailers don’t have to contend with. And friends of mine, who would rather hunt on-line than in-bins, don’t spend their money on wines we all have worked so hard to get out there.

Anyway, we just have to keep going back and setting it right. And that’s one of the things we do, when we be choppin' in the woodshed.

Now for the wines.

I did have a number of pleasurable moments with customers. People came up to me and said things like, “I want to buy a case of wine, give me what you like to drink,” or “I don’t care how much it costs, give me some big reds,” and “ I just got back from Italy and I want to know more about the wines of Campania, Basilicata and Apulia.” Music to my ears.

These five were some of my go-to wines this weekend. The store is like this wonderful artist’s palate with all these colors (flavors) and tons of folk wanting us to paint ‘em a picture. Can do. Good feeling. Visceral. Selling. Hunting. Bagging the catch. Yeah!

Brunello di Montalcino – Castiglion del Bosco
I put this wine in many hands for a couple of reasons. First, the wine is drinkable and accessible. So if folks want to try a Brunello, this is a great gateway Brunello. It tastes Tuscan, it has healthy fruit, it is not excessively expensive and it is really a nicely balanced wine. I met Enologist Cecilia Leoneschi at the Merano Wine Festival in November. She is taking on the old men in Montalcino and holding her own. I admire the owners for giving her rein. Cecilia brings her perspective to Brunello. That is, for me, a lighter hand, letting the grape come through, not wrestling it to the ground, but rather, gliding it into the bottle. One to watch for in the years ahead, Cecilia is young and in for the long haul.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro from Tenuta Pederzana
You cannot do better with a plate of salumi than with this wine. Chill it up a little bit, and start your engines. From the Grasparossa grape, I took a bottle over to a chef from Emilia-Romagna the other day. Now this guy has known me for years, but has rarely if ever acknowledged my presence in his world. When I handed the bottle to his son to give to him, you’d think I was his long lost cousin. His eyes lit up, he smiled, he liked me he really, really, liked me. I owe it all to this friendly little Lambrusco.

Get yourself hooked up with a Lambrusco like this. It takes the snob off the table. It’s subtle and bold, delicate and a romp. It’s a serious wine that laughs at itself. Go get you some.

Vermentino Vinga “U Munte” from Colle dei Bardellini - Riviera Ligure del Ponente
Long title for a white wine. I had a gent who was looking for a white with character, didn’t care how much it cost. “Hit me with your best shot,” was his challenge. I recounted my recent trip to the region, pulled it from the top shelf and handed it to him. “Take this home and don’t tell too many people I told you about this wine,” I said. He countered with the inevitable “Why?”

What can I say? They don’t make a lot? True. We don’t get a lot? True again. No, I had another motive.
I want most of it for myself. There is something about my attraction for this region that recharges me on the wine trail in Italy. It’s like a new Italy has just risen with the new day sun. It’s a revelation, it’s a wonder, and the wine embodies all that energy. All for under $20. You open the bottle and all of Liguria opens up with it. Fragrances, herbs, salt, high altitude old-growth, perfume, richness and serenity.

Re Manfredi Terre del Svevi Basilicata Bianco
While we were taking bottles off the top shelf, I also handed this bottle to the same gentleman. Where in the world of wine do you have the paradox of a landscape like Basilicata? Then take white grapes that were born and raised in parts of Italy where German is the mother tongue. Muller Thurgau and Traminer, hijack and sequester them in deep, dark, Basilicata. It is cold in Basilicata in January, but the grapes have found their winter home. There is fruit and that reminds me of aromatic West Coast whites from California, Oregon and Washington. There is forbidding landscape filled with rocks and stones and pumice and all sorts of impenetrable minerality. And the wine picks it up as the vine squeaks through the cracks in the earth. I have tried this wine with all sorts of food and am looking forward to the day when I taste it with cooking from someone’s aunt or grandmother from Potenza or Matera or Rionero.

Cadetto Rosso Nero d’Avola from Tenuta La Lumia in Licata, Sicily
The winery could be someone’s dream of a winery in Old California. Mine. But it is firmly rooted in Old Sicily.
This is a wine that has going on, underground, all sorts of mineral wealth. If it were in Texas, they’d probably strip mine it and be done with it, git us some Hummer fuel. But this is Sicily and that won’t happen. All I can really say about this wine is that when I open it and taste it, it makes me happy. It fires up all my synapses relating to some Sicilian-well-being molecules that reside within these mortal walls. I can taste the wine right now, there’s cherry and salt and rare meat and pomegranate and orange peel and Idiazabal and Mimolette and Canestrato. Who needs food? Just a little hard bread and one of the aforementioned cheeses- Happiness in Paradise.

Tomorrow, we head into snow and slush and delayed planes and Manhattan gridlock and more wonderful wines from the wine trail in Italy.


  1. where i live in italy the reigning fizzy red is gragnano...forget those snobs! it's fun and usually dry and if others reject it that just means there is more for those of us who know that it's the perfect companion for a hambuger.

    hearing one that wants to know more about the southern reds is muuuuusic to my ears!

  2. Maybe this explains why I couldn't find the Pian di Nova... ;-)

    Oh well... this week...


Real Time Analytics