Wednesday, February 03, 2010

My Dinner with Carmen

“You aren’t going to put any of this on your blog, are you?” Those were the words I heard from my friend Carmen Castorina. “No Carmen, not the juicy stuff,” I said, as I made the zip-the-lip sign. Omerta.

We were sitting in the corner table of Manducatis, sipping espresso after a memorable meal, made special, thanks to Anthony Cerbone, whose family owns the venerable restaurant. Years ago Lou Iacucci recommended the place to me. I made a note of it, put it in my file and proceeded to forget the advice. Years later another friend, Dr. P, would bring the subject up again. I reckon I was ready this time. But I wasn’t going without my buddy Carmen.

How can I say this? I will speak as plainly as possible. Life is made for the times when you can take a subway, two short stops from Grand Central into Queens, and walk into a shrine for Italian wine without all the hoo-rah that sometimes goes with it. We were spending an afternoon in Manhattan at the Vino2010 event, where the subject of Italian wine was being scrutinized by every manner of Italian wine expert. So where were all these folks now? Manducatis is the destination after all the talk has been laid out on the seminar tables, no?

They must have gone to Le Cirque or Del Posto.

In fact, those were the venues for the night. Somewhere along the line, my vouchers were redirected and I, having adopted a newer mellower, kinder persona, just walked away from the tables with the computers and the forms and resigned to go to dinner on my own. Oh, what a lucky man I am. And with Carmen as my Sicilian co-conspirator, to Manducatis we did go.

Carmen just reached his 30th year in the wine business, all with the Gallo family. He directs communications for the company, but Carmen is an avatar, an early adaptor, an idea guy. I like talking to him, and especially over a hard to get bottle (and most likely the last of its kind) of Italian wine. And as good as the wine list is (and it is really good) and the food (and it is plenty fine), it's the stories, the stories; that’s the banquet when one has dinner with Carmen.

Where to start? This man has a life story that’s got book deal plastered all over it, if such things were still being considered. But they aren’t too much. The publishing biz is in the crapper, but people still want the stories. And that’s the strength of the blog and the blogger.

440 words in already and all just as a set up? I know – get to the point, all y’all are saying.

If you think I’m going to reveal Carmen’s secret, you better think again. Suffice it to say – Carmen has seen kings made and kings die in the wine biz. He’s had 11th hour dinners with giants of the wine world, like his old boss Earnest Gallo – but I can’t tell you about them, yet. He is the wizard of the wine biz – he makes ‘em – he bakes ‘em – I am just really glad we are on the same side. Carmen knows what will sell in these times (hint: they dont sell for $50+).

I gotta get him to write all the stories down. His story is the history of the wine business in America in the last 30 years. Big plans, broken hearts, monumental successes, big picture stuff, the view from 30,000 feet. All done with a strategically inserted good deed, and a smile straight out of Lewis Carroll.

Man I wish I could tell you. But I promised my friend – Omerta – No way. At least not until we finish this last bottle of wine Anthony just brought.


Jeff Siegel said...

My favorite Carmen story is the one with Sarah McLachlan.

Carmen is a pro, and there aren't many left any more. And I say this knowing that he will never let me forget that I said something nice about him.

Susan Guerra said...

Alfonso: Great to meet you in person yesterday and hopefully I will one day get to meet Carmen. In the meantime I wish all y'all a great time in New York.


Bland Drinkwater said...

The first time I met Carmen was during the drive to San Francisco after meetings in Napa. The stories, the stories, the stories.

Marco Marechiaro said...

I tried to look at Manducati's wine list but couldn't. Their menu looks very solid ole school. My kinda place. Let them eat offal at Babbo. I was considering a last minute ride down, but my stomach and sinus-whatever have had a mind of their own for the last three weeks.

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