Friday, June 20, 2008

The Tex-Mex of Tarantella

"You heard me, get me some chicken fried steak, frito pie and
fried chicken livers over here, on the double. You got it?"

Mixed bag from a crazy week. Where to start? Frank Bruni writes in the NYT about Italian food being the Tex-Mex of Europe. I just wish sometimes that Italian in America was as good as some of the Tex-Mex I’ve had here at base camp. Don’t get me started.

While we’re on the NYT blog watch, something Eric Asimov said the other day struck me: “the dance that comes of shooting oneself in the foot.” He was referring to, who else? The Montalcinisti’s.

All week the spiders in my house have been attacking me in my sleep. I am covered with spider bites. My skin has been crawling for days.

So we have Tex-Mex, Italian, dancing, shooting and spiders; I sense a theme here.

Earlier in the week I was at lunch with my Italian wine loving friend, Paul. We were at a little place in our neighborhood, York Street, talking about wine and food. Tasting a few wines, more for pleasure than anything. At the table behind me an Italian wine importer is chatting up his rep. He goes off on a property in Umbria and the consultant, Riccardo Cotarella, and how all his wines are overblown and why does he make Sangiovese taste like Zinfandel and why, oh why does he make Merlot? It reminded me of someone who was nega-ranting about Alice Feiring’s book ( or her position ) on a blog somewhere. I wanted to ask them all, “So you think you have a better idea? Then present it, get it out there and see what kind of mileage you can get from your point of view.” I know Cotarella is working to break away from the way he is perceived, we’ve talked about it. It’s like an artist that gets pigeonholed for a certain style and then, bam, he can only be a cubist or a surrealist or an abstract expressionist. Or a naturalist or a pure-wine Euro-loving Cali-hating effete snob. I want to say to these angry ones, have you ever picked up the phone and called these people? Or how about an email? Why not engage them in a dialogue? Why does everything have to be High Noon in this culture?

Look, the young importer seems to have a nice portfolio and I’m sure he is repping good people who are committed to their land. But is Cotarella any less committed to his evolution because he has found a thread of success that brings a lot of people to Italian wine? Quit knocking it. It’s cursing the darkness; it’s a mobius strip that will only drive you nuts.

Another day I’m in my kitchen with a bunch of wine and food folks with this cat from Copia and he’s in the basement mixing up the medicine and all of a sudden we’re drinking Riesling with lamb, Chateauneuf du Pape with seafood stew, asparagus with Napa cab and some fruit compote with a maderized 1971 Clos Saint Denise from Bertagna and you know what? Maybe it’s bunko, but everything worked. Even the Burgundy came back from the brink.

Ok, so maybe the dude knows how to do group hypnosis and we all were under his temporary spell, so he could schlep his secret sauce. The point is, there is always another way to look at things, without applying some dogma to it. Just being with it, observing it, thinking a little about it, maybe letting yourself be changed by it and moving on down the road to the next scenario that the future has in store for us. Huh?

Right now 40% of restaurant business in the US is take out, so that means they aren’t selling wine to those customers. The restaurant business is in the tanks. I was in a restaurant last night with a friend and he gets a call from a client wanting about 20 or so bottles of wine. The fellow couldn’t have planned his business a little better? And now he expect the salesman to stop everything he is doing so he can waste time and gas on a losing proposition to deliver this poor-planner his pittance of Pinot. And then the restaurateur wonders why his business is doing so badly?

Another restaurateur can't buy wine because he has to decide whether he should pay his wine bill or the note on his Mercedes. Of course, image is everything, so he stiffs the wholesaler. Again. And then someone like that will threaten the big suppliers if they don’t come in and spend money in the place. This whole thing this week is like watching a bunch of rats drowning from broken levees and in turn they start chewing off the arms of their fellow rats so that can have something to float on. Bizarre week in flyover country.

A comment on the state of the importer. Business is slow and people in Italy have got to know there is a slowdown in America. But hey, July is coming and then August and then Ferragosto, so we need to tidy up the office, get the orders in, so we can get on with our vacations.

I called a Brunello producer today. The last time I called him he was in India and said he’d call me back. Well, he must have forgotten. So I called and called and called again. Finally I reached him; he was in some ex-Soviet satellite city doing a winemaker dinner. I ask him how his Brunello is going. He says to me, “everything is Ok, everything is OK, just order the wine, Parker just gave it a 91.” We've got Toscana IGT's that Sir Bob gave 90's to and they are 1/3 the price of Brunello. And they're sitting in warehouses, moving slowly. So, how about instead, Parker giving me a gas card, something I can use?

I told him I wanted to know how his certification is going. I guess he is too busy spending time to develop the emerging economies to backtrack to the American circus. Just let Parker rate it and everything will be OK? NO-K.

Have you heard of the word staycation? That’s when you stay at home because it’s too expensive or you don’t want the hassle of traveling in these times. And more people are doing that. It’s only a small step before wine lovers do the same with wines. Hello Italian winemakers, marketers, owners, enologos and everyone else who is looking to the largest economy in the world for their wines: we do not want to be treated like we are total fools. Yes our demand for more than our share of the world’s energy is ludicrous. Yes we are fatted calves. But you are feeding from the trough and it’s got a shaky leg.

That same leg that the foot dangles from got shot by its owner, on account of we too, like the winemakers in Tuscany, and people all over the world, are still working this being human thing out. We are still trying to find our somewhereness on this blue orb. Do you or don’t you wanna dance?


Marco said...

Right on. You know this, but the other people shooting themselves in the proverbial foot are restaurateurs that mark up wines 400% and then bitch about sales.

Unknown said...

A lot to comment on here, but it's interesting to note that maybe many Brunello producers don't care about the brouhaha going on the US. With the US market declining in the eyes of the French (who are themselves a declining market to their own wine) and Italians owing to surging demand in countries with newly found wealth, perhaps a zone with such a small production overall can simply go elsewhere and do just fine?

Marco said...

As the French say , balance la vie.

Tracie P. said...

spiders in your sleep, ace? too bad there's no text emoticon for the heebeejeebies. btw, that buyer sounds like a real scemo!

Alfonso Cevola said...

We all have 'em, IWD, at least those of us who actually work for a living, e'?

Tracie P. said...

mmhm. you got that right!

Unknown said...

Bravo Alfonso, you have an incredible fantasy and your "visions" about wine here in Italy are clear-headed!
Franco Ziliani

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