Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vintage Guitars and Rock 'n Roll Wine Selling

Yeah, I’m still out, but this remote posting to show off one of my favorite wine buyers vintage electic Guitars. Harris Polakof, whom I have known for 20 years, has set up some of his out of this world collection of vintage guitars on the tasting table. So while we taste wine (as we did with Laurent from Rapitala last week) we have some mighty fine musical instruments to look at. A little different, but that’s the way we do it down in Big D. We put the “D” in different. Flyover country? Yeah, what’s it to ya? Happy hump day y’all. I’m heading for a roaring river and some whitewater thrills.

A really old vintage Fender. Anybody care to guess what it is? Jar?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dante's View

Folks, we all know there is more to life than blogging. I am taking a week off. I need a break from all this connectedness. Just a week. I’ll be gathering more tales from the wine trail, I promise. In the meantime, thanks for reading, I’ll be back.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Winning Wine Dinner Combination

This night was a memorable one on many levels. I know Sausage Paul doesn’t like me to do too many of these blog posts, and I will curtail them in the near future to go on to other subjects.

But if you are going to do a wine dinner, how about taking a few hints from this one, which in my opinion, is one of the textbook examples of a successful wine dinner. Let’s break it down.

Winery person: How about an owner, someone who is vitally connected to the success of the venture. In our case we had Cristina Mariani, 3rd generation family owner from the Banfi family. Cristina, I told her today, I have never seen her when she wasn’t “on”. The work ethic in the family is very, very strong. And Cristina really went all out to represent her family, her winery, and Italy.

A strong food component: In this case, someone who is considered one of the best chefs in this genre, David Uyger. David came into prominence at Lola, which closed this year.

Now David and his wife Jennifer are readying their soon to be open trattoria, Lucia, in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. David prepared a great meal, albeit way too much food. But that is the Jimmy’s tradition. Note: David did not use truffle oil or "any kind of gastriques, glazes and other puddles and streaks on the dinner plates." (to borrow a brilliant quote from blogger Donna Childers-Thirkell. Thanks, Donna!)

He did serve up a single sauce with the main course, the pasta dish was not over sauced, the salad was spared of another one of my pet peeves, balsamic vinegar. Thank you, David. He used Farro, not rice, not potato. And he loves root vegetables, as I do, brussel sprouts, parsnips and tanned and trim carrots. A huge shout out of “yum” for those.

And the dessert, which paired with the Brachetto, was not overly chocolaty, and had other components, namely a nice whipped single white (not red) cream sauce and hazelnuts. Not some Jean Claude van Damm over-the-top uber coco-licious smack down. We left the place feeling full but not stuffed.

Next component: a good venue. In this case the place, Jimmy’s has a good following and the dinner (for 60) sold out in 5 hours! At $120 a person, not an easy feat in these times. And true, there were lots of goodies (a complementary bottle of very good red wine, a free glass, and some other gifts. And to top it off, the retail part of the night, there were special pricing and deep discounts.

At one moment, a client reached over to me and asked me to box up a 6 pack of the Banfi Poggio all' Oro (@ $149.00 a bottle). He wanted to make sure we didn’t sell out of all of it before he got his. We did sell out of that wine that night.

So, value rules, even in the higher price ranges. Couple that with a committed winery and owner, a great chef and a beloved location and voila, we have a winning combination.

Oh yeah, and we sold a ton of wine that night! Win-win! Wine-Wine! Cha-Ching!

These blog posts have gotten to be too wordy lately, so I will give us all a break and finish with a group of pictures. Many thanks to Cristina Mariani, David and Jennifer Uyger, Paul and Annette and brother Mike Di Carlo and the wonderful staff and clientele of Jimmy’s.

And to Joey the Weasel, aka Joe Strange Eye, whom I met 30 years ago when he walked into my wine bar to sell me a case of the 1970 Poggio alle Mura Brunello, back in the day. Man, time flies when you’re having fun.

Buon divertimento y’all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oh-So O-Positive

From the "seeing red from sea to shining sea" dept.

Wow, what a day this one was. Last week, while not yet October (the “O” in O-N-D, the frenetic wine selling holiday season) it sure seemed like it. And while it isn’t quite the wine trail in Italy, the young Italians have come off their trail to dabble in missionary work. These are their stories.

Veronica Lagi comes from Tuscany, lives in Florence with her boyfriend. Works for Castello di Monsanto. Veronica is part of the new wave of young Italians that I write about, those who travel the earth, in search of places to put their wine. China, India, Canada, Sweden, America. This week she was in Texas.

8:30 - A text to our sales rep to see if she had samples. Word was the rep had meetings until noon and I didn’t want Veronica to be waiting around a hotel room. I’d find something to do with her. The day before we did a staff training, so I knew she could handle herself well in the streets.

8:39 – Sales rep texts me back, she was on her way to the sales office to see about samples. We would hook up later. I needed to find some wine.

8:49 - All I had in my closet was the 1985 Il Poggio Riserva, probably not a good wine to schlep around. I called Veronica and we agreed on starting the day at 10:00AM.

10:12 – Veronica jumped into my car at the hotel. We had a wine dinner in the evening, so I called the owner of the restaurant to see if he could meet with us at his corporate offices. Sure. Along the way I was talking to Joey the Weasel, aka Joe Strange Eye, and he said I should go by Sausage Paul’s to pick up a bottle of the current Riserva. Great, then we could also have a good espresso. Sausage Paul was there, cleaning up from the night before when we had a rather late night with the Falesco boys. The week was halfway done, but we were all feeling like it should already be Friday. I had a Dr.’s appt on Friday for this crazy nose problem I’ve been having. Dry weather, stress, and one of my childhood ailments had returned, the nosebleed. And with a nose like mine, this was nothing to take lightly. They had gotten severe and regular lately, and this week they were hitting me like suicide attacks in Baghdad. I was going through Kleenex like a sushi chef went through rice. Not pretty.

10:30 - We get to Sausage Paul’s, grab a bottle of wine and an espresso and head to see the Italian restaurateur. About 45 minutes of conversation, the new Tuscan steakhouse project, discussion of a future Tuscan wine dinner with Monsanto when the steakhouse is finished and lots of good stories. The Italians love to visit these iconic Italian restaurateurs. They have so many stories to tell about how they got to America, how they approach their business and this one was no different, This Italian restaurateur is very successful, lives life as a bella figura, and knows it, and why not? It’s part of his DNA.

11:15 - We part and head to a wine and cheese shop. We have 45 minutes before we are to meet the sales rep, but I go over to the shopping center where we are to meet. Veronica is looking for postcards. We scour the shopping center and find not one. Note to self, find a way to sell some cool vintage postcards in this shopping center. I am sure tourists come here often. Good opportunity to make a little (very little) cash on the side. We head into the wine and cheese shop to meet the buyer(s). The main buyer is in Italy with clients, but there are two affable folks in there and we talk. Hmmm.

12:00 – I rush back to the main office, there is a gent from Spain wanting to meet me to talk about the wines of Ribero del Duero. He has a plane to catch so I offer to take him to the airport so we can talk more and drive at the same time. So American it is to do something like that, as the driving, moving thing and also talking, relationship-building thing can often be a bit of a conflict of attention. But we muddle on through. I don’t know why but I think better when I am swerving through traffic. I am more focused and get to the point better. Not sure if my passenger liked my driving all that well. But we did get him to the airport on time. Along the way, one of my bosses called and asked me where I was. "Where are you? We are having lunch for one of our fellow co-workers.” I tell boss I will meet the group at the restaurant, start without me, I will be there as soon as possible.

12:45 – Zipping through the George Bush tollway was a straight shot, if I didn’t get a speeding ticket. At 80+mph, that was a stretch, but it was in the flow of the traffic.

1:10 – Made it to the restaurant, French. The waiter had just gotten there, working off a major drunk fest from the night before and stumbled in, still slightly drunk and very hung over. We order (he hadn’t gotten to them yet!) and settle in.

1:45 – We’ve had wine, soup and some of the entrees start showing up. My doesn't and the server brings me more soup (I hadn’t asked for more, oh well.) Finally the salmon, strike that, the sole showed up at my setting. “I didn’t order this,” I told the server. “Well, that’s what I wrote down,” he offered haughtily. Whatever, it was getting late and I had a ton of stuff to do. I scraped off the crème sauce and pushed the rice aside and managed to work it out.

2:22 - Lunch finished, we ordered espresso. “Short” I advised the server. “Of course, who do you take us for?” he served back. Minutes later a tall espresso, weak and smelling like dirty water, was pressed towards me.

2:39 – I pick up the sad cup of coffee flavored water and went to the bar. The owner, a friend, was there, and I winked that “go along with me on this” wink. To the waiter I slid the espresso on the bar and said, “You screwed up my entrée and I went with it. But you will not screw up my espresso!” The waiter, still hung over, fumbles and asks me why the vulgarity. “Sir, you are guilty of vulgarity with that sorry excuse for an espresso. Now fix it!” And I return to my table. What a long day this had become,

2:52 – After the proper espresso is brought by a now contrite server, the owner appears at the table with two liter bottles, one a home made lemoncello, the other a grapefruit and blood orange infusion of the same style. Frozen carafes from the freezer. Oh, this wouldn’t be good for productivity. I had, easily, ten more hours in this day before I laid my head upon my pillow. But what the hey, the owner, such a pleasant guy, and the infusions were quite good.

3:12 – Heading out, the waiter sufficiently tazed into compliance, a rep from another company, quite drunk, wants to talk. He and his colleague (girlfriend?) are sitting at the bar getting their drink on. And he wants to talk to me about coming to a retail store and doing an expensive Italian wine class. The lady is dressed seductively, but not improperly for our business, but I am just not in the mood to talk to her male friend. I guess I had the sign still on my back that the waiter had put, the one that say, “He’ll take anything”. Yes I will. To a point. And I had reached that point some time ago.

3:40 – Back in the office, for a moment, to gather my stuff. Somewhere in town my Italian rep is working and I have been setting up meetings with clients from my remote/mobile bunker. I remember there is some paperwork to finish up. Before I know it’s 5:30, the dinner is at 6:00.

5:45 – Walking to my car I feel liquid dripping from my nose. I am wearing a pink shirt. I get in my car and turn it on. Waiting for the car to cool. I apply compresses; the nose is in full bleed-out mode now. I am trying not to panic, but the folks at the restaurant are calling me asking me where I am.

6:00 – I notice my pink shirt now has blood on it, so I must go home, through rush hour traffic and clean up. Meanwhile my nose hasn’t stopped bleeding. I call, text, let everyone know I will be at the wine dinner. But I will be late.

6:22 – A car behind me screeches, the brakes squeal, smoke from the pads, the whole deal. The driver comes within inches of rear-ending me. The adrenalin starts my blood to pumping again. Now my shirt isn’t pink, it’s blood-orange red, kind of a tie-dyed look. I am three blocks from home.

6:45 – I am home now and one hour into this mother of all nose bleeds. I have done everything, counted slowly to 300, applied a cold rag under my lip. Pinched my nose. Nothing is working. I have gotten blood all over the house, my whole world is blood covered. And I am late for the wine dinner.

7:15 – Finally, it is over. I am cleaned up, the mess is contained. But all I can taste is salt and blood. It reminded me of a Spanish wine I once tried. And I hated it. I head to the wine dinner.

7:30 – I am seated at a table with lovely folks. They have had the first course, snails. They were finishing the second, a duck with some kind of berry sauce. I tell the server I will just have the next, the entrée, the steak.

7:38 – The duck appears. The cherry reduction reminds me of something I had being trying to get rid of for an hour and a half. I am sure it was wonderful, but I couldn’t even look at it. I moved it around the plate and the waiter picked it up. Why did he bring it, I wonder, I told him I didn’t want it (I smell a trend here, servers who don’t listen?).

7:55 – The steak appears. With a gob of foie gras and laced with truffle oil. Even with my nose severely hampered by what it has just been through, the truffle oil got through. Now, folks who know me know I once had a run in with truffles, essentially I got a lifetime’s worth of truffle exposure in a few days. I am so done with truffles. But truffle oil, that’s a layer of hell I reserve for Al-Kaida insurgents, someone like a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Not me. I did my sentence. But truffle oil is still flowing in Texas. So I buck up, tear off a few bites and serve my sentence. The wine helps. Too bad the Sangiovese is so bloody red, though. I am in full overwhelm with the earlier trauma. But the night is young. There is still dessert.

8:30 – Mind you, the wine dinner was lovely. The company was delightful. The wines were spot-on. I just wasn’t in a great space. But I do love my desserts.

8:40 – A mind boggling Vin Santo appears and I start to get a view of the Pearly Gates from whatever level of Hell I had risen out of. And then the dessert showed up. A panna cotta with a cherry/berry reduction sauce. Again with the bloody allegory on the plate. I was defeated, spent, vanquished. I surrendered. But I just couldn’t look at one more glob of coagulated cherry coulis.

9:45 – After tableside conversation, I move to take Veronica on the town for her last night before she goes home to Italy. I head her up to a friend’s pizzeria in an ancient tack shop. On the third floor they have an ice bar and Tuaca and Patron on tap. Light clear, cool, soothing alcohol salves, followed by beer. And hour or two of that, listening to same laid back Texas music from the band on the outdoor patio overlooking this little Western square started to mellow me out. This is the Texas the Italians like to see, but they always get committed to doing wine dinners. I know it’s part of the work and the commitment, I understand. But once in a while you just gotta find time to let a little Texas worm it’s way into one’s heart.

11:30 – Getting late, but I offer to show our young Italian Dallas by night in the car, so we head off in search of the city with the lights. Past the grassy knoll, the historic place where a President perished so many years ago. Down into the deepest parts of the bluesy side, Ellum. The glitzy art district, where the Johnson’s and the Pei’s and the Renzo Piano’s, the Rem Koolhaus’s, all the bright and pretty architectural jewels of the so very wealthy city on the Prairie. This dry Prairie, where many have dreamt large and shed tears and blood for their dreams.

12:15 – A full day. A lifetime in a day, but we made it. To wake up another day and try again. To dream, to bleed, to be alive. But I am still positive, oh so O-positive.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding New Stories

And new paths to the hearts of Americans

All through the years we tell these tales about Italian wine. Stories to get people to feel more comfortable with the different wines, the names, the languages. And after years and years of these stories, whether it's about blood from a saint or a prophet, tears from the Mother of God, bees that flock to the vines or the culinary travels of a hedonistic monk, sometimes these stories finally reach a point, on the wine trail in Italy, where it is time to lay some of them to rest.

After reading several of blog posts, about Valpolicella, Aglianico, Sangiovese and Vin Santo, I started thinking about doing an event in the Circolo del Vino in my neighborhood. Very lucky to have that room and 30 or 40 people who might be interested in coming to hear me talk about it.

So that’s the plan. Oct 20th at Jimmy’s. Busting the myths. Blowing ‘em up. Putting them to rest. The time has come. If you are reading this and live near and are interested, get on the mailing list . We are going to harvest new stories from the wine trail and it is shaping up to be a lot of fun. I will just be back from a harvest trip in Italy.

This year, even though it has been tough, very tough, for many people, it has also been terrific for Italian wine. We’re having an incredible year. The Italians are back from their long summer vacations, and have been hitting the streets, tanned, stylish and ready to work long hours. A post coming soon, we all have been having long days working the markets and then putting on wine dinners. This week, next week, it’s an endless feast. I haven’t seen the French, the Australians, the Spanish working the markets as vigorously. Maybe that is part of the reason Italian wine is the dominant imported wine in America. Grazie ragazzi. More coming.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Italian Wine Dinners

Which is the one for you?

Soon, two wine dinners will take place, in the same town, on the same day, at the same time. They illustrate the different approaches. I think one works well; I think the other one is a stretch. Let’s take a look at them.

Italian Wine Dinner #1
  • With the owner of a major Italian estate, with land holdings in Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily. All wines are estate grown and produced.
  • A top chef in town, who is about to open his own Italian Restaurant.

The wines (8) :
  • Brut Metodo Classico
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Chardonnay
SuperTuscan duo
  • Sangiovese/Cabernet/Syrah
  • Merlot/Carbernet Sauvignon
  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Single Vineyard Brunello

  • Dessert wine – Brachetto DOCG

Here's what's cooking (with the wine matches):

Reception with Brut Metodo Classico

First Course
Seafood Salad with White Beans & Arugula
Served with the Pinot Grigio and the Chardonnay

Second Course
Freshmade Tagliatelle with Pork Ragu
Served with the two Super Tuscan wines

Third Course
Braised Lamb Shank with Farro and Fall Vegetables
Served with the two Brunello wines

Fourth Course
Crespelle with Bittersweet Chocolate Fonduta
Served with the dessert wine – Brachetto DOCG

Additional: as a special gift for each attendee we will be giving you a complimentary bottle of Tuscan Red wine (a $40 value), which will be personally signed by the attending winery owner.

$119 per person + tax = $128.82 (no gratuity)

As well, this dinner has made provisions to buy any of the wines served at anywhere from an additional 15-20% off retail prices, so if you like the wines, you can buy them there and even get some of the bottles signed by the owner (which makes for unusual gift ideas, especially with the upcoming season).

Italian Wine Dinner #2
  • A family owned business for almost 100 years, but no mention of owning any land. Claim to fame is unique packaging and value driven wines. Showing up will be a young lady, who appears to be a family member and has the title of Vice President.
  • The restaurant no longer touts having a chef, although in the past this establishment had several very good ones.

The wines (5) :
  • Prosecco
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Chianti
  • Merlot
  • Moscato

Here's what's cooking (with the wine matches):

Passed canapés, arancini, crostini and tartlets.

Crab cake
Pinot Grigio

First Course
Pasta with sausage, wild mushrooms and toasted fennel cream.

Second Course
Roast filet of beef with potatoes

Gorgonzola and Taleggio with cherries almonds and honey drizzle

$75 per person + tax (no mention if gratuity is included or additional) with tax = $81.20, with tip $96.20.

I am curious which one you would want to go to? Is the free bottle of wine motivating? No tip? Ability to buy at below retail? Or would you prefer spending a little less on a night out in a place that is known for good food? I'd like to give some feedback to these folks, in light of the current economy and the ways to promote their business, and how friendly or alluring these kinds of events are for people who read this.

Last note: Dinner #1 sold out in 5 hours (60 seats). I don’t know about dinner #2 yet.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Whirlwind Tour (& Taste)

One of our Italian importer reps has been in town for the week. In the last 24 hours it has rained 8-10 inches. The Trinity River is reaching record highs. The Calatrava Bridge construction has stopped until the storms end. Last night, as we were assembling in the back room of Jimmy’s, the air raid sirens blaring, and the tornadoes threatening, 35 of us huddled together over plates of antipasti and wines from Piedmont.

It was eerie, but the crowd seemed to be into it. I imagined us all as if we were marooned on an island and had to get along for more than a few hours. There were six tables of folks. There were six wines. We had Gavi, Barbera, Dolcetto,Barbaresco, Barolo and Moscato. For a brief twilight zone moment, I imagined each table representing one of the wines. The wind was beating down on the old building, the roof was leaking. But we weren’t going anywhere. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else being any safer. We had food, water, wine. Worse case, we could all head into the freezer room and wait out the worst. We had fig cookies. We had dark chocolate, we had espresso. We had Moscato.

As we were watching the TV, it looked as if tornadoes were touching down everywhere in town, like a tornadic recreation of the War of the Worlds. I went outside to look at the skies. Blue, green, gray, dense with clouds and rain and wind. And then I went back to check the TV. When I noticed. Fox. Just like last week when I was in Ft. Wayne and the TV was blaring another apocalyptic end of the world scenario, with the Hurricane on the east coast and the new oil spill in the gulf. Again, Fox. I called a friend in the media and asked them to give me their take on it. “You should worry more about me than you; it’s heading up a corridor towards me.” I suppose that was intended to make me feel better.

All day, I had been sluggish from a “procedure” and this weather and the stress started up the pains in the side, like last month when I had my “heart attack”. After meeting a friend for lunch at a tony spot, the situation improved, slightly. The 1976 Clos du Val Zinfandel sure helped, it was as perfect of a wine as one could wish for. 1976, drought year, the year we drove through the Napa Valley in the Falcon station wagon, slept in the car in a Calistoga trailer park, the year my son was born.

Earlier, perusing the wine list, I noticed the account hadn’t the same degree of passion for my Italian wines as I did, although the Italian wine section was more than well represented. Points for the other side(s). Small wine companies with the time to pay attention in ways we cannot or will not. Passion know no scale.

Same as the night before, another spot, this time all Italian. The wine buyer, really the wine gatekeeper, would never realize the great wines we have in our galleys. If for no reason than they come from a large behemoth company, and that alone gives people like him reason to hate those of us who work in that milieu. I noticed a red wine from Etna that was interesting, but at $90, hardly a value. Youth, they have to make their own mistakes, even at the cost of the diner who is parceling out their spending more carefully. Misconnection there. What to do? Maybe the tornado will someday cross the path of the buyer.

After a week in a hard hit area, the real Midwest, back in Texas, back to the daily storms of wine and ego and youth and vs. the established and experienced and the so very dug in. The voice of experience vs. the new voices of truth. Or so they think. Even under a wall of water, there really is nothing new under the sun. Just a new crop of humans who have to learn the hard way.

On with the show - it’s flooding down in Texas, hope the levees don’t break.

Sunday, September 05, 2010 serve somebody

Last week, traveling across Indiana, I spent a day with a young lady, a sales manager. She was 33, with two little boys. She had the aura of an older person; she mentored many of the new young people in the organization I was working with. This organization was going through a rough patch, having lost many of its more lucrative spirit agencies. The wine department was still intact, but the company as a whole, was wounded. Not gravely, but wounded none the less. This young lady was in the battle, on the front lines, training new salespeople and trying to keep them and herself in a job. She worked many hours, this young mother.

The night before, I had spent an evening in an Italian restaurant. This was a nice little place, with real Italian feeling. The pasta was made on the premises; the garden in the back supplied the kitchen with fresh herbs, basil for the pesto and tomatoes for the salads and sauces. The owner was from the Neapolitan peninsula; he’d left when he was 18 and landed in the midwestern town when he was 28. Over the years he had a restaurant that did well and he bought another one, expanded and brought his brothers to work, other Italian immigrants to serve as well. One of the fellows, Paolo, from Calabria, reminded me of my childhood friend, John Carvaly. Always a smile and a good thought. He had left his life, his family, and here he was smack-dab in the mid-section of this great big country, and he was working, serving food and drinks to people, some who would go home and watch Fox and listen to stories about illegal immigrants setting fires in the Southern Californian desert. Or other ones about local state senators pushing for an immigration policy similar to Arizona's to deter illegal immigrants from entering their state. And on. And on. And. On.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

When I was a young man starting out in this business, I started through service. Waiting. Serving. I tried to tell myself I was paying it forward, so that someday I could sit on a nice restaurant on a Friday night with my pretty girlfriend or wife, and they would serve me. And it did happen. But deep down, inside me, the call to serve never left. This life isn’t about you or me; it’s about the other. It revolves around helping, serving, being at hand. The young sales manager knows that only too well. Recently, her husband fell ill and in a month he was dead. And she was left in the center of the country, with two boys under 10, in an uncertain time, working for a company that was going through convolutions that have shook numerous employees, old and new, out of the company. But she still has to make the delivery to the restaurant that forgot to order the wine for the weekend, and she has to do it before she takes her sons to football practice, on a dirt road, out in the country. Again and again.

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

Last month, several of my colleagues and one of our best clients went to the Italian Club for a benefit. The room was set up with glasses for wine and Italian antipasti. The night centered around a loosely woven foundation to serve as a way to honor the memory of a man loved in the community and missed by his grieving wife and family. We were all trying to raise money so that young boys and girls, living in the country with limited financial and educational resources could have access to musical instruments and music teachers. When the widow stood up to talk about her husband, gone barely a year, she talked about how he came from Italy with his brother, also from the Neapolitan peninsula, with a dream to carry on the skills they learned from the father in the New World. And they were successful. Immensely successful. But last May, in the middle of the night, he had a massive heart attack and left this world and all his success and family and everything we know about this world. He served somebody too.

We are called, daily, to set our wants and need aside for the greater good. A CEO asks us to be patient for a few more months. A President asks us to hold on. A child asks us to tie their shoes or wipe their nose. A dying wife asks us for more morphine. A mother asks us for more time. It’s what we are called to do that forges us into the one we become. Daily. It’s more important than money. Or control. If it is a higher calling or not isn’t important. It just is. And whether it is selling Italian wine or getting to day care before the doors are locked, it all must get done.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Lyrics by Bob Dylan

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pastramma Mia: The Best Fried Green Tomato BLT and Pastrami in Flyover Country

From the “It doesn’t get any better than this” dept

My amigos in Austin might have great home cooked meals (and great Nebbiolo) when they go home, but even on the road one can find culinary surprises. I’m in Indiana all week, all flyover, all the time. And I got to tell you all, this is one underrated part of the world. I’ve been here since Sunday night and have been putting in 14 hour days, and loving it.

I’m here to work with a great bunch of salespeople and a great company, Olinger in Indiana. From their leader Jim “just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in” Oliver, who is Sicilian to the core, to the people who work the streets. Man, I am feeling the street-love, and I’m sending it back in doubles!

We got here Sunday afternoon and hightailed it to Capri, where Arturo Dirosa runs a place that if it were in my neighborhood I’d be there every Friday night. Check out his website, how cool is it to have Paolo Conte playing on the front page (instead of Louis Prima or Dean Martin) for a change? Situated a little bit away from Indy-Central, Arturo is a mellow fellow, and we have fast become friends. To make it even better, where can you go drink a bottle of 2006 Produttori Barbaresco for under $60? One of the best Barbarescos at any price (in spite of what one misdirected Italian wine salesman in Austin has to say about it).

Speaking of haters, folks have been slamming me on other food blogs lately. I have been told that some anonymous jerk slammed me for recommending a falafel place in Dallas to the local restaurant reviewer. How dumb is that mishegas? Like I have anything to gain from telling anyone about a great Israeli hangout in the hood? I have way too many things that have happened in my life, it puts hating in its proper perspective. Knuckleheads.

Along with that, who said it was cool to go into an account and slam your competition wines, in front of the restaurant owner and the salesperson? Lesson 1: Never slam the competition; you never know when you might be selling it. Point in fact: this week I am selling Planeta, Antinori and Bertani in Indiana, where in Texas I compete with other products. So there. In fact I don’t even sell Produttori in Indiana, but I still like it. Duh! So fellow wine salesman who likes to throw down stupid insults, go crawl back in your air conditioned chamber and leave the job to those of us who love Italian wines and the people who make them, sell them and drink them.

That made me hungry. Fortunately there is no shortage of good food here in Hoosier country. Yesterday at Sweet Grass in Bloomington (how cool is it that they have Texas-grown Stevie Ray Vaughan playing "Sweet Litttle Thang" on their front page?)I had the most amazing fried green tomatoes, fried with panko bread crumbs, and topped with a little “country caviar”. The Zardetto Prosecco paired beautifully with it, and the spoofy little Sassyr was wickedly good. Who knew Sangiovese and Syrah would match up so well? But the pièce de résistance was the Fried Green Tomato BLT. That one makes my list of best things eaten in 2010.

While we’re at it, today I went to Shapiro’s, a much loved institution in Indianapolis, and famous for deli food "to die for". I couldn’t resist the pastrami on the home made rye. Maybe Kenny and Ziggy’s is as good, but I haven’t experienced it yet. Shapiro’s, whoa, I haven’t had anything like this in recent memory! There was a soulful fellow making the sandwiches and talking smack about politicians interlaced with how great America is. He was a trip. But the pastrami on rye (with potato salad, sorry about the mayo) was another one of those that will make my list of best things eaten in 2010. Did I say Indiana is cooking? One thing I didnt say (but wish I did), "I never thought I’d utter the words, “there IS great deli outside of New York.”

These have been 14 hour days, and I have an 8:00AM pickup to take me to South Bend and back. I just got home from an incredible meal with the Ruth’s Chris folks. We drank Orvieto, Brunello, Aglianico, Tignanello and old Amarone and passed around big honkin’ steaks to go with it. So I better get this post written and get to bed, 'cause I have got to get on the treadmill in the early morning and work off some of these corn fed calories. Two more days to go.

Really folks, I couldn’t be happier than when I am standing around with a bunch of open bottles of Italian wine and a few folks and we are tasting and telling tales. That is my element, especially as we lead into the holiday season.

And this team here has had a tough summer, a summer in Hell. Without going into the details, suffice it to say, I am working with a major league team here, trying to make the world ( and flyover country) safer for Italian wines.

And to make it even cooler, I snapped this shot out in front of one of my new best friends Italian restaurant. Can you guess who else was “Est. 1951”?

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