Friday, July 18, 2008

The Tune-Up

I have been driving around lately like gas wasn’t $4 a gallon. Just looked at the miles I've covered this week and I probably could have fed a family of four. In any event, Wednesday I headed out early from Dallas to Austin with a trunk full of wine, my trusty Koolatron chugging right along, ready to celebrate its 27th birthday in a few months.

Round Rock, Texas – once a low-water crossing on the Chisholm Trail, now an ex-urb with row after row of strip mall and tollway overpasses.

The day would start somewhat ominously; I got lost. That kind of thing happens when the empty field that was there a few months ago is now a sprawling complex of low rise apartments, retail shops, with nary a gas station in sight. Where there once was a Bar-B-Que pit, it now houses a sushi bistro. Texas has taken to crudo in century 21.

What else? A "gentlemen’s" club or two, after all, they are on the route sheet. Disciplina, as they said in Ancient Rome. Imagine this: making a cold call in 100°F weather, going into dark and dank clubs, the smell of stale beer and cigarettes pounds you as you escape the heat of the day. Inside the dark, the wet, chilly air conditioning, the heavy bass beat and an empty pole waiting for the dancers to change their shift.

A sign that says “WiFi here”, as if someone would come here to surf the net. Over in the corner a lonely guy is getting a heartless lap dance.

And somewhere around a series of corners, we lurch to find the bar manager.

My colleague walks straight and deliberate, like she is on a high wire. I'm impressed with her lack of fear in this den of improbability. But then again, she lived in Naples for four years.

We find a congenial guy, a businessman trying to figure out how to keep his margins healthy so he can stay open for this mixed blue and grey collar establishment. Every minute or so a “waitress” comes up to the bar with an order, Jack Black and Coke, Stoly on the rocks, that kind of thing. High octane in a tumbler.

Everyone is looking for an opportunity. The Piemontese make a low alcohol sweet slightly frizzante red that sells well in these places. The client can buy it for $12 and sell it for $80. The girls can drink it all night and never lose their balance, on the job. We talk about pitching it on another visit, after all the formal introductions have been made.

Flash-forward several hours later, after our main event. A couple of us are sitting outside under the warmish Austin night, quenching our thirst with an Alsatian Riesling. One in our party, a Master somm, related a story of how they charged, in one of their clubs in the meat packing district of NY, $700 for a bottle of Cristal. It seems that was too low, the wine was selling too fast; they had to go around the regular channels of procurement. So they raised the price, $1200, $1700, $2500. It got to the point that they couldn’t ask too much for a bottle of the stuff. Makes the $80 buck bubbly look like chump change.

Back to the main event. After driving in circles around the torn up streets of downtown Austin (everything is under construction, reminds me of Rome) I finally find a valet park ( which I hate) close to the spot where we be having the tune-up, Taste Select. I’ve got a baker's dozen selections of Italian wine for the event. We have Italians coming and a Master sommelier, a wine buyer for one of the hottest Japanese places in town, another top restaurant owner who lived in Italy, an MW candidate, an assistant winemaker, and several colleagues from the wine biz. Wines opened:
• Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut

• 2007 Araldica “La Luciana” Gavi
• 2006 Re Manfredi Basilicata Bianco (Muller-Thurgau/ Traminer aromatico)
• 2000 Gravner Breg

• 2004 Capezzana Carmignano
• 2001 Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione (corked)
• 2000 Castello di Rampolla Sammarco

• 2003 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino ( the forbidden label)
• 1997 Angelo Sassetti Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino

• 2004 Re Manfredi Aglianico del Vulture
• 2004 Nino Negri “5 Stelle” Sfursat

• 1999 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco
• 2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo

• 2006 Fama Fiororange (Maculan Dindarello)

With the exception of the corked Il Carbonaione, all the wines showed well. Plates of charcuterie and small producer cheeses were served, this was a simple event, food wise, but the foods served were way above the high water mark. I know folks in NY, LA, SF, Italy are saying, yeah, but. Whatever, last night at Taste Select in Austin, we had the Family Table rockin'. And we learned lots of words in Napolitan' dialect.

Next month Texsom runs in Austin. Any folk who live nearby should get on the bus, when we feature Italy for two seminars along with Argentina, Washignton, Loire Valley, New Zealand, Medoc & Graves, Porto, Madeira & Sherry and an important seminar on Erstes Gewaches. If you are a sommelier and live in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma or wherever, consider coming to this. This is a growing event. Where else in the US can you go for a couple of days and hang out with a lot of great wine geeks?

Speakers & Panel Members-The List So Far:

• Guy Stout MS
• Fred Dame MS
• Greg Harrington MS
• Shayn Bjornholm MS
• Ken Fredrickson MS
• Keith Goldston MS
• Charles Curtis MW
• Brian Cronin MS
• Bartholomew Broadbent
• Wayne Belding MS
• Laura DePasquale MS
• Brett Zimmerman MS
• Larry O'Brien MS
• Alfonso Cevola CSW
• Joe Spellman MS
• Tim Gaiser MS
• Fernando de Luna
• Josh Raynolds
• Rebecca Murphy
• Diane Teitelbaum
• Paul Roberts MS
• Sally Mohr MS
• Joe Phillips MS
• Darius Allyn MS

I know the guys that have put this together, Drew Hendricks and James Tidwell, would love to see you at the 2008 Texas Sommelier Association Conference, August 17-18, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin Texas.


Tracie B. said...

happy birthday, ace! i just want to complement your talent for taking flattering pictures AND publishing them!

maybe i was in the middle of deep contemplation over the gravner...

magari :P

Marco said...

Happy Birthday. You're catching up to me.
Tracie, isn't that what good food and wine is supposed to do? As Billy Crystal aka Fernando used to say, "You look maahvelous!"

Anonymous said...

Oh man come On.......
I was just at Taste last week and had a similar experience with the food and wine. I like putting my card in the machine and getting taste of the wide range of wines. Good folks.
Sorry I couldn't make the tasting.
Happy B Day Mista President.... Guido

Marco said...

AC, I forgot to order the pork belly with carmelized fennel from Taste along with that '01 Bruno Barolo that you poured.

Nancy said...

Happy BD and welcome home. Loved the report.

Gastropoda said...

Grey collar. Love it. (Happy birthday -- got distracted on Facebook yesterday.)

Tracie B. said...

you got the sarcasm, right? speaking of, do you think greg reads your blog...?

rae said...

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nwsidewino said...

A sfursat, WOW! I was turned on to sfursat in another life at Gramercy Tavern while on business in NYC. Now I sell wine in Chicago and very few people have ever heard of Sfursat!
I may have to ask my Italian importer if they know of any available sfursat!
Damn I got to say sfursat five times here!

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