Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Tango Lesson

OK, Italian winemakers, importers, suppliers, brokers and other hopefuls, listen up. Today we are going to have the tango lesson.

Recently a soon to be open Italian-styled restaurant decided that needed to know more about Italian wine. Over a period of a month, all of the local suppliers gathered up their samples and went about-a-courting.

Now, mind you, this is a group who seem to have their feet on the ground, most of the time. They have had successful businesses and give to charitable causes. They aren’t entertaining any grandiose ideas about conquering the Italian wine and food scene; they are just looking to open a nice place for the people in their area. They aren’t looking to do one spot as the concept model, with the idea of doing twelve more in a year. That’s a definite recipe for disaster.

They aren’t even talking as if they are or will soon be “the greatest”, another pitfall I have seen. All that’s left of those places are their matchbooks in my bathroom. They have died, and yes, not with a bang, but a whimper.

No, these folks are interested in change, and first in changing their ideas about Italian wine, and hopefully finding a style in their area that the local patrons will come to enjoy and appreciate. That’s what I get from hanging around them.

But there are so many wines to be tried from Italy and because the new place will be in an area where local folks consider the fine wines of the world to have names like Silver Oak, Screaming Eagle and Contoured Edge, wines with names like Camp du Rouss, Pergola Torte and Zanna are a bit “furrin”, and right now “furriners” are laying low.

Along with Italian wines they are also trying wines from everywhere else in the world.

That’s the background.

Today’s lesson is about the 150 or so wines vying for the eight slots available on the banquet and catering list. Eight. Period.

This day, in the dark of the early morning while the frost was still on the branch, eight or so of us vendors trekked out to the hinterlands of our urban sprawl and lined our foil covered wines up in rows so these Catechumens could be initiated into the sacred mysteries of the blind tasting.

The scent of a wine times 150 – now what are the odds that your wine will get picked? If you cringe at this kind of exercise, wake up, because this is happening everyday across the country, just like this, many times over. To get a single placement that may or may not bear fruit. I kid you not. It isn’t romantic, it isn’t pretty, nobody likes it, but it is one of the facts of life in these here United States, if you want to sell wine. So many wines aiming for so few slots.

So if you don’t like the odds, stay home under the warmth of your Tuscan Sun. Here, in the combat zone, it's cold and it's dark, no bright lights of "Dancing with the Stars". But this is the part of the business very few of us talk about. It’s the frontline of the battle fields, where we go daily to dance our dance as good as our wines will let us, hopefully with the form of a great tango dancer or ballet artist or even a Fred and Ginger. Yep, I’d happily trip the lights with F&G.



Anonymous said...

.... and in the end, the point of difference may be how many friends you can make.


Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

I'm left struggling here, AC, whether to sympathize with your plight of the wine merchant, yet point out that said still don't struggle nearly as hard as Mr. Zimmerman's froggie did with:
Frog went a-courtin', and he did ride, Uh-huh,
Frog went a-courtin', and he did ride, Uh-huh,
Frog went a-courtin', and he did ride.
With a sword and a pistol by his side, Uh-huh.

...or, as a furriner myself, to simply say "good luck!"

So, in closing, stick with the froggie... he won at the end of the song!

Alfonso Cevola said...

then you can call me Zimmy

Anonymous said...

Upon further reflection, it sounds like the restaurant is trying to feel self-important. You don't set up a blind tasting of 150 wines from everywhere to select eight of them for a banquet list.
Who do they think they are, The Dallas Morning News?

Alfonso Cevola said...

It's really more a reflection of the amount of wines distributors need to present to sell. It wasn't something the restaurant asked for, in fact, I was glad it wasn't me having to taste all those wines.

Crash course in wine tasting.

And yes, I have opened 60-80 wines at a time for The DMN wine of the week columnist. But that is due to the fact that she lives in Washington and gets here every 3 months and we just need to knock it out.

Nobody really craves this part of the business, but it is part of our day jobs.

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