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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino





[12/01/2019, 15:39] A late-night dispatch from a tired and wary Italian wine export agent in China
[ Imagine a scenario where Italian wine exporters, winemakers and their agents make their twice (or thrice) yearly pilgrimage to China in search of trade and success. And imagine, if you will, one of those agents sending a note in the middle of the night. It has happened many times, and as such, this one emanated from one of those cold, dark, lonely rooms, overlooking a pop-up city of millions in the middle of the night.]

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Dear A,

It?s 3 A.M. and I got into my room two hours ago. I?m writing to you because it?s afternoon where you are, and back home in Italy people have sat down to their Sunday dinner. They have other, more important things on their mind than my travails in the Middle Kingdom.

I?ve just come in from another wine banquet, this time in Zhengzhou. Course after course, some recognizable, some as foreign as the Chinese characters on the signs. And wine, Italian wine. Multiple vintages of this wine or that wine. In my case, it is our Brunello, which goes back many years. How our hosts found the 1955, I?ll never know. We don?t even have it in our cave back home. But that seems to be the way it is in China. One can find things seemingly lost to history. On the other hand, one can find that here the past is shunned, forever lost. At least the truth of history. But that?s what it must be like when you live under the rule of a leader who had himself voted ruler for life. God, what I?d give to have a plate of spaghetti con peperoncino aglio olio right now, to settle my stomach and to rid my palate from the taste of smoked duck and soy.


On the Wine Trail in Italy
Back home in Italy, the owners of the winery want me to spend more time in China. ?It?s so vast, there are unlimited possibilities for our label,? they say. They rarely leave their little world around Montalcino, barely go to Florence. Yet, they dream of a larger world outside their bubble. So, they send me, their very own Marco Polo, to ?make friends with the Orientals.?

I?ve been there a dozen times now. Cites with names like Guangzhou (population 44 million), Shanghai (population 36 million), Chongqing (population 25 million), Beijing (population 23 million), Hangzhou (population 21 million). And then to the 2nd tier cites, Zhengzhou (with only 10 million) Nanjing (with 8 million), Xuzhou a city that has barely nine million people. And yes, Hong Kong (a measly 7.5 million). They are all islands on this sea of land mass with a never-ending tsunami of population. Two billion souls, and I can feel their intelligence, their cunning and their ruthlessness. Every one of them.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Two weeks in China can seem like a life sentence to an Italian like me. No Facebook, no You Tube, no outside influences. Big Brother has seen to that. From an endless procession of hotel rooms, they peer out from the clock or the smoke detector above me, courtesy of ?The leader for life.? But whose life? And what kind of quality of life? And here I am, at 3 A.M. pondering a life, one which my employer wishes to use to conquer China with his Brunello. It?s Pirandello blended with Machiavelli and throw in a dash of Grazia Deledda. And that is my dilemma as I look out a window I have looked out upon dozens of times in a dozen cities and not seen anything that would comfort me. No ancient basilica, no recognizable river, not a car or a building, or a sign, that will ease the cold loneliness that creeps into my bones when I am so far from home. Oh, how I long to go to America (even Canada with all that snow right now), if I cannot just go home, to find something that gives me consolation from this lonely road trip that lasts a lifetime.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And really, while they loved the wines, and even me, next week it will be a producer from Etna, the week after it will be a famous writer, and they will love them too. And they will bring out their mushrooms and their prawns and their abundance ? first to impress and ultimately to suppress. For their plan isn?t to build my brand, it is to take it over. Two billion people and counting. Against a country of 70 million and with a dwindling population at that? We?re heading into the dustbin of history while our churches and old buildings will remain for a time longer, as monuments and artifacts of a once mighty culture. But with this new China, which has been around even longer than Rome, and with hordes of people crawling around the planet buying everything, soon the tables will be switched. Oh, how I wish my employer had just stopped in America and not gone on to Asia. I would willingly (and occasionally) eat the junk food under the golden arches to spare me this experiment.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
No, after a dozen or so trips to China I am not convinced this is the right place for Italy to expend the energy to build their brands for wine. I think in 100 years, at most, this experiment will only be a vague notion. Italian wine will just be another revolution to be suppressed and vanquished, like so many revolutions that have been consigned to the scrap-heap of history here in Asia.

I know you?ve been critical of the long-term prospects for Italian wine in China. Maybe you should come here and see for yourself? I?d love to know what you see and feel and find.

Warmest personal regards,

-F












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[11/24/2019, 20:41] The Absolutely Last (and Final) Wine Dinner I Will Ever Do
[Stardate -303142.8]
On the Wine Trail in Italy

?It was bound to happen, eventually,? he said to himself. ?After all, having done more than 600 wine dinners, what more can one say or do about Italian wine in front of a group of juiced-up bacchants on a Saturday night, getting their drink on and rushing through the courses, so the deejay can turn down the lights, turn up the noise and get them to dancing their derri?res off, into the wee hours of the morning??

And so it was, not with a bang but a sniffle that he shuffled off the dais and proceeded to eat his cold pasta on some long-abandoned table, wondering why, why did he fall for it again?


They wanted an Italian wine crackerjack. The well-healed crowd in the latest and greatest purlieu of this metropolis, was billed as smart, chic and eager to learn about Italian wine. There would be hundreds of them, tooling in with their Alfa Romeos and Ferraris, drooling over their Chardonnay and Orgalini, in breathless anticipation of his fervid depictions of Il Bel Paese.

Or maybe when they reached the Barolo, maybe then it would be a good time. They would really be ready then, to hear about what it was we were tasting and drinking, and something about the grape, the vintage, the match-up with the food, some history even?

But golly gee, it was not meant to be. They were having too good of a time. And why would the ace Italian interject and spoil their evening?

He made his way back to his sorry little table, once again, sat down, and ate his cold rolled meat dish with the Barolo. And he made a promise to himself, and the world, channeling his inner Scarlett O?Hara, ?As God is my witness, I swear I`ll never do a wine dinner, ever, again!?

Which is ironic, because most of the well-heeled people at that last wine dinner thought, ?Frankly my dear, we don?t give a damn!?

And for anyone who entertains the idea of doing a wine dinner in some stardate in the future, maybe it would be a good idea to sketch out the parameters for success at such an event. So, lets dig in.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Intentions of a wine dinner attendee
These really are the most important constituents at a wine dinner. They are the reason one puts together an event like this. So, for that reason, the element of hospitality is paramount. Forget why they come; the real reason is that they want to be gladly received. And in the ancient tradition of hospitalit?s, that really is all we should expect. If they are rowdy, or noisy or tippled, if they are more interested in talking to each other, or taking selfies for their Instagram feed, so be it. I?m sorry to have to admit it, but that is the social contract. More on how one who is not a guest (like the presenter or the host) should act to follow.

But the bottom line to a wine dinner is that the guests be made comfortable. Period.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

Expectations of a wine dinner presenter
It depends on the format and the intention for the event. But generally, a wine presenter is asked to come to a wine dinner because they might exhibit some level of expertise or fervor in which to impart upon willing guests. Willing being the operative word. It might be a journey through the Langhe or a jaunt through Tuscany. One should get a determination of the depth in which the guests are likely to want to go.

If the event is on a Friday or Saturday night, it is safe to assume it will be more of a social gathering. The educational aspects of the event are probably not the first and foremost reason for guests who are coming. But one must be prepared to talk, and also to not talk.

If, within the first minute of talking about a wine or Italy or simply an introduction, the crowd starts talking, it?s a good, solid indication that they are not here for you. They have their own orbit, and why not accede to the prevalent winds in the room? Go around table to table, as an alternative. Have those one-on-one conversations ad infinitum. And yes, someone is invariably going to tell you about their trip of a lifetime to Venice in July. Or that Italian wine they had at the most wonderful trattoria in Rome, which they cannot remember, but you, being an expert, surely must know of which they are talking about? You?ll be well advised to be prepared for the real expert in the room who is there to debunk anything you might be heard to say and uphold his superior caliber. Just remember your inner mantra, ?Om, mommy take me home.? And eventually that is where you will end up.

Look, expertise and ?presenting? is probably more appropriate for a small group, where the ground rules are laid out in advance. Or for an educational seminar.

A rule of thumb I have realized is: if there is a fork and a knife at an event, wine is not going to be the most important factor. If there is a spit bucket, a pencil and a tasting sheet, more likely folks are there to learn. Got it?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Objectives of the host account
The optimal arrangement is to have some kind of retail point of purchase in place. If not, most people will not remember the next day (remember, when there is a fork and knife present?.). So, get a restaurant who has the appropriate license or get thee a retailer to the table. If not, it?s just a party. And at best, it?s a way for a restaurant to put butts in the seat on a slow night. And as long as everybody knows what the main reason such an event is for, no one gets their feelings hurt. Not too much. I mean, we are talking about Italians here, and they are sensitive creatures.

I?d advise it to be really important to get an understanding of how many people will be coming. Not how many who reserve (and then ?ghost? the event), but just how many people are actually going to sit in the seats. And that is the responsibility of the restaurateur. If they have a good relationship with their clients, all the better. If it?s a new place, or they don?t have a ?network? established to the outer community, there might be disappointments. Nobody wants to fly 1,500 miles to a wine dinner where five people show up (and three of them are from the distributor). But anyone who has done wine dinners for 5-10-20 years probably have a story or two about things like that. (In my case I found a BnB in New Orleans that I just loved to stay at. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina).

Anyway, you really need as complete of an understanding by the host to know what one is getting into. That said, do not be disappointed if it isn?t exactly as advertised. And remember, the most important thing is that cardinal virtue, hospitalit?s.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Overall desire for general success
What are the markers? Is it when everyone goes home with a full belly and a case of wine? To the wine presenter, especially if he or she comes from the winery, that would be really nice. But that?s more the exception than the rule.

If 10% of the people who go to a wine dinner remember it as a pleasant evening and they go back to a store and buy the wine, I?d say, by today?s standards, that was a pretty successful event.

But to the guest, if they have a good time with friends and family, nice conversation, good food, good wine and leave with a feeling of comfort, that is probably more a signal of success than anything. Sorry if it doesn?t get you the numbers you wanted (or needed) to make before the end of the month). It?s not where we are in time and space. But there are places where the magic works really well. I?ve written over the years about my local little Italian grocery store, which now has become a place of pilgrimage for many Italian winery folks. And they do sell a lot of wine during those always sold-out events.

[Hint: at this place, the owner often includes in the price of the event, a bottle of wine. So, if 60 people come to the dinner, at least they know they will have ?sold? 60 bottles. Which is brilliant. But they keep the price down, and while there is tax, there is no tip, so folks can get an event that won?t clean out their wallets. It?s a good solution.]

And, really, speaking from the perspectives of those who have done hundreds of wine dinners, they aren?t all going to be brilliant victories. But always, above all, whether the event is wildly successful or it sinks like the Titanic, remember those famous words from Ms. O?Hara, ?After all... tomorrow... is another day!?
On the Wine Trail in Italy

Never say never.





written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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[11/17/2019, 21:58] [For what it?s worth] Who do you think you are?
? There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It really seems, to this fool on the hill, that the routes that wine follow, there?s a groove that has become very, very important. I?m going to break it down into the different articulations, from the source to the terminus, and offer my observations. And yes, we?re talking about wine, and how it?s intersection within our culture has changed how we see it, how we place ourselves within that context and how everything that was taken for granted 30 years ago, have pretty much been assailed in these here times. Change is constant and inevitable. And to quote, once again, a distant cousin, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, ?If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.? It?s not all bad news.


Once upon a time, it was just good enough to make wine. And not even that good. But good enough to be enjoyed and remembered. Wine was a thing not like today?s wine is a thing. It was sustenance. It was often safer than water. It was cheap. And it was a vehicle for alcohol which, when one read a little history, was one of the great discoveries of homo sapiens. It offered transcendence, albeit maybe just for an evening. But it made getting up on Monday, and trudging back to work, not as hopeless as it could have been.

? It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Now, wine is luxury, it?s a measure of status, of affluence, and of standing within one?s tribe. It?s also gotten expensive. So much that wines people grew up on 30 years ago have become untouchable to many of them. I don?t remember the last time I had a DRC wine, but it wasn?t in this century. Whereas, in the last millennia, it was a little more of an expected occurrence. Same with Biondi-Santi, Gaja, or Opus One.

And with that change, there are many who follow that path. Wine as the ultimate aphrodisiac. Being a member of the wine cognoscenti is something one can get without much of a stretch. All you have to do is have the money. Or an Instagram feed. But wine itself, does it know what it has become? I think about the vines at DRC, and what if they knew what they had become, and who had become their collectors, sitting away in cellars like so much art, waiting for the moment when it would become so valuable that it would be impossible to open and enjoy? So, we stare into the collector?s covey and admire, while the owner of the cellar says, ?These aren?t for drinking. They?re for looking.?

? Everybody look what's going down ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And what about those who move the invisible strings: the high-wire performers - restaurateurs, fine wine retailers, sommeliers and other idols? How have they chiseled new grooves into the soul of wine?

In many ways it?s a good thing for wine and the business of wine. More people involved, caring, taking a stand against inertia and ?the way we used to do it.? In actuality, the wine trade has acted more like an annual than a perennial, pulling out the dead and used up and replanting, rather than just waiting for another crop to surface and flower. Funny also, because grapes and vines are perennials with annual output. It?s the human hand (and heart) that treats it, once it becomes wine, into this fashionable creature from the latest catwalks of France, Italy and beyond. And said restaurateurs, fine wine retailers, sommeliers (the ones actually sommeliering on the floor) and other innamorati ply their trade, do their magic, performing daily miracles. Water into wine is a simple (and decidedly olde-school) parlor trick compared to the legerdemain of today?s wizards.

The problem is the noise. There?s so much clamoring for attention (?pay attention to #ME?) that the ones who are plying their trade get drowned out by le provocateur du moment with an iPhone and the fa?ade of influence.

So, for instance, if an Italian wine list 40 years ago might have paid homage to French wines, apologetic for only having wines of ?humble Italian origin,? today a wine list might proudly assert having ?only Italian wines.? Or further, only having wines ?Italian, but only from Rome and further south.? What was once a rarity if not an anomaly, now is commonplace. But not to be eclipsed by a simple laundry list of ?only Italian wines,? now tony Italian restaurant wine lists proudly display full sections to Beaujolais, Champagne (or more commonly, the proletarian epithet, ?Bubbles?). Not to forget Greece (we must #NeverForget to assert our God-given right to Assyrtiko). And of course, #NewCalifornia. It is a complete 180? turned inside out, which, in my opinion makes for a greater choice and multifariousness. While smart phones get smaller, wine lists get bigger. And our attention spans get shorter.

? What a field day for the heat ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
?1,100 labels and all they ask for is the spritz!? my friend Roberto Paris laments. Well, no one said ?if you build it, they will come? about wine lists. Someone still needs to peddle the goods. It?s not as if our idols will all deign to come down from Olympus on a Saturday night to pull a shift. There are some brave souls who see service as the means, and the end. And then there are those who are content to provide content from the warmth of their tablet, while chilling at home with their Roku? Stick? and a bottle of Beaujolais vieilles vignes.

Look, what I learned early on in this business, is that it?s much easier (and more glamorous) to buy than to sell. Putting together a wine lists gets you invites to lunches, dinners, private tastings, even junkets. I know one ?wine buyer? who was putting together a 150-page wine list for near on a year. This person was invited everywhere. Saw much of the European wine producing countryside with meals at the top restaurants in the cities to boot. And then? The restaurant was open six weeks when said person bolted. And then the bill collectors  appeared and the landlord bolted the front door. So, a bunch of really cool wine sat in the dark, and the dust (without air conditioning), and yes, the orange wine turned brown, along with the white wine and the red wine.

? Singing songs and carrying signs ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I?m all for wonderful wines lists and I?m equally happy for really good BYOB restaurants, which have been surfacing in my town with comforting alacrity. Now we have a seriously good Thai restaurant where I can take my Feldmarschall von Fenner M?ller-Thurgau from Alto Adige. As well, down the street a heretofore filling station, then a short-lived barbecue shack, is now nominated as one of the best new restaurants in America. And it too is BYOB. And yes, I can drag out my ancient Nebbiolo and Hermitage bottles and schlep them down the road to have with some seriously good charcuterie, pasta and proteins. So, part of the backlash to those 150-page tomes are these establishments popping up that rely upon you, the diner, to bring your own wine list. And even though, as I said, earlier, it is easier to buy than to sell, it is a horse of a different color to buy for yourself and put the damn things away for a distant date in the future. Pray you play the long game well.

? Mostly say, hooray for our side ?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Which brings us to wine reviewers, bloggers, commenters, and their ilk. Circling back to the subject of this post, and that is how things have changed in the last 30 or so years. Sure, this group has a little or a lot of influence in the wine world. Probably more like ?a little? for most of us. But now ?small is beautiful? is back. Which makes a lot of sense in regards to the kind of contrails I?ve been watching from my treehouse.

I go back to something Doug Cook told me. Doug created Able Grape, a wine search engine, and was VP Engineering at both Yahoo and Inktomi. A smart guy. And a wine lover. And a humanist. He said that in the Twitterverse anything over 1,500 followers (he has 200K+) was of no essential consequence.

If that is the case, and I have no reason to doubt Doug, it means that quality can really be more important than quantity. Size doesn?t matter. Well, size matters, but amplitude takes on a different perspective and metrics need not be judged not by ?who has the loudest voice? in the room. Micro-influencers, it seems, are now all the rage.

This has compelling implications. For one, a large following doesn?t matter that much anymore. Que sera sera for any perceived state of one?s influence. And now, quality has leverage over volume. Sayonara, 100-point wines. Ciao, unreachable wine Valhalla (as bedaubed about Instagram). And hasta la vista baby to all that useless running after the hottest story, the latest scandal, the must-read ?insiders? tale, whether it be about Pinot Grigio DOC, or the travails of the descendants of Clemente Santi or any number of hot-off-the-press accounts that the aggregators foist upon us, bending and shaping the daily wine narrative. You want the world? You want it now? You got it, babe.

But know this ? if you go down this road - it will be quiet, and might be lonely. For you will be chasing a story that scores of other folks aren?t. And you might be seen as a storyteller at best, and d?mod? at not-so-best. Let it go, the world will keep turning, everyone to their own way.

But, oh, the yarns you can spin. Who do you think you are? Tell us, all who will listen.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

? Step out of line, the men come and take you away ?





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[11/10/2019, 14:35] Young French professionals take the lead in the wine trade
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Alice Paillard and Victor Coulon
When one looks back at a career and all the people and occurrences in the span of the last 40 or so years, there is overwhelming evidence that we have been in a Golden Age for wine. But as one backs away from the precipice and the younger generations take their turn grabbing the brass ring, the idea of legacy emanates.


First, let?s just dispense with any romantic idea of legacy, here and now. Anyone living on earth who thinks what they do in 50 or so years of activity moves the needle is delusional. We are inhabiting, and are a part of, a live organism - earth - which is billions of years old, and with a little luck will last for many billions more. So, what we do or what we think we do, in our little lives, is all well and good. But it matters really only in the here and now. A hundred years from now, at most, who we are, and what we did, will be forgotten. And for most of us, after our ashes are scattered, within a year, at most, the memory of what we did will be dust in the wind. Just to put it in perspective. We are borrowing space on this earth and grabbing a few years, micro-seconds in time, and that is what we have going for us.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
That said, while we are here in this form, wouldn?t it be wonderful if we felt that our deeds and the actions of our peers and colleagues, generated new lives who came into their own time and space and saw what we did as something to continue, as a stepping off point, not as a fixed point in space? As a beginning, not an end?

And that is exactly what I felt this past month when I sat in the company of two young French wine professionals, both well under 40. Happy to say the wine trade is alive and well in the hands of young French professionals like these.

Alice Paillard ? when I first met Alice, she was playing in her family?s backyard. Alice was about 3 years old, it was summertime, and it was one of those perfect summer nights one can have in France or Italy, or wherever there are the right conditions. It was cooling off after a warm day. And her father, Bruno, had the right idea, an aperitif of Champagne. And of course, it was from Bruno Paillard.

The company I worked for had a wide focus on fine wine and this new producer from Champagne was bright and sharp and just the thing for the 1980?s in Texas, where all things were possible. As Bruno poured his wine into glasses and handed one to each of us in our party, little Alice played in the background. Who knew 34 years later we would be sitting next to each other in a tony little dandy corner of the Arts District in Dallas, this time with all-grown-up Alice pouring the wine into our glasses? What a wonderful cycle this wine world can be.

And, like her parents, Alice is devoted to wine. She, like many in her generation, have taken it to the next level, what with traveling the world to visit her clients and with social media to blaze the trail, or rather to capture her con-trails. While we chat, she sends her papa a message telling of our lunch meeting. And within moment, Bruno responds. The circle will be unbroken.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And the wines? Lovelier than ever. I do love Champagne (who amongst us doesn?t?). Tasting notes at the end of the post.

Victor Coulon comes from the southern Rhone, his family has been making wine in the region for eight generations. And like so many French and Italian families in the 20th century, they started their climb up from being growers making rustic styles wines, to a proper little estate with their Chateauneuf du Pape being the top wine they make.

The property, Domaine de Beaurenard ? Famille Coulon, is now biodynamically farmed. My first exposure to their wines was last year when I had a bottle of their Cotes du Rhone. What I noticed, almost immediately, was that this was a wine which delivered more than a simple Cotes du Rhone. It was vibrant, animale, full of energy. And it had a wildness to it that I found very compelling. I texted a friend who runs a natural wine store in town and she remarked how much she liked the wine. It made an impression.

The Famille Coulon was known for their white wines in a time when white wines weren?t necessarily in favor with a large portion of the wine drinking public. We?re talking 40-50 years ago. Anyone around back then know white wines from Italy and France, simple white wines, didn?t always make the ocean voyage so swell to the New World. But a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc is a creature of a higher order. And as we sipped on the 2018 Victor remarked how this wine changes, evolves, as it ages. A chameleon of a wine, they don?t block any malolactic occurrences (they also don?t embolden it). Consequently, the wine, as it ages and matures, goes in its youth from a bright spicy, evergreen creature to one with is mellower, but taking on secondary (and tertiary) aspects. More levels, more depth, subtle, not shouting, a quiet path through its life, but one which still is remarkable.

What I loved about Victor and his presence was that he, like Alice, seem fully integrated in the continuum of wine from their family. They appear comfortable in their own skin, so to say. And these days, often with youth, there is that longing for something that is not quite within reach. And with that, comes an unsettled air. Not these two. They?re in it for the long haul. So very reassuring, even for those of us who see legacy in more illusory terms.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Avignon 1985 - park reflection from restaurant window
What I got also was an understanding of what Victor?s parents and grandparents laid down in their life, from a foundational perspective, for future generations. Look, Victor?s progenitors in the 20th century had to face their share of crucibles. But like so many in that time, they did what they had to do, and they forged on through for their descendants. Something in this country (USA) we seem to have forgotten lately.

All this to say, I admire not only Victor and his brother, now making and marketing the wine, but the parents and grandparents for having the strength, the faith and the patience to work through good times and bad.

I know many of the Italians I encounter have similar stories. But there?s something about my French cousins that connect with me and how I see the world. It?s like they understand time in a way that allows them to look outside of themselves, reach out and consider this global community in a way which is unique to them, and also which considers wine, in almost a timeless way, as they serve the Grape, the vine, the wine and humankind, all wrapped up in one very pretty and compelling saga.




The tasting notes:

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Bruno Paillard
Bruno Paillard Premi?re Cuv?e MV ?Extra brut (first pressing) Alice says ?this is our vision of Champagne.? It is a selection of terroir, grapes and vintages. A lovely ?grapey? character ? dry ? nice butteriness. Citric, crisp (acidity is fresh) and lively. Lees ageing three years. Honey, almonds, one third is reserve wine from their perpetual reserve started back in 1985.

Bruno Paillard Premi?re Cuv?e Rose? MV ? I first sold this wine in the 1980?s and my neighbor down the street, when he was ma?tre d of a fancy hotel, poured it by the glass. It is as I remember it ? sharp, crisp, well balanced. Now rose wines are very popular, but to propose one in 1986 was stretching it. Thankfully, Dallas loves bright and glitzy. Fortunately, this wine, while being all that, also is a wine of substance and character, exhibiting their house style of balance and restraint, while still being an exciting wine to drink.

Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru MV?Disgorged 2 years earlier, four years on the lees. Again, the restraint and subtlety of the house style. It had a beautiful flowery buttery quality. Absolutely wonderful with Chef Peter Barlow?s meal at Fauna.

Mill?sim? 2009 Blanc de Blancs ?Just released ? bottled in 2010, disgorged in 2017. Subtle, restrained (that pattern) half Pinot Noir and half Chardonnay. Alice says ?we like to give names to our vintage. This one is ?invitation to travel.??

Mill?sim? 2009 Assemblage -  The artist label is unique to each of their vintage wines, a tradition which started back in the beginning of the company. 50%  Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. Again, a lovely wine. It?s a rich wine, from a balanced vintage ?it?s like a pillow.? A lovely end to a civilized business lunch.


On the Wine Trail in Italy
Domaine de Beaurenard
2018 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc ? Slight evergreen notes, cinnamon, spice, healthy fruit. ?My father and grandfather had never seen a vintage like this in their career. It was a warm, wet Spring. With no Mistral. And a nice summer.? Classic six grapes (Clairette, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Picardan) co-fermented field blend. Family known for their whites (10% of their production). Floral notes, rich texture. As stated in post, ML was not blocked. Should age very well.

2018 Cotes du Rhone ? From a 10-hectare vineyard. 90% of the wine is declassified Cotes du Rhone. Certified Organic by Ecocert and Biodynamic by Demeter. 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah, co-fermented (?Our idea is that they learn to live together?). Fresh, drinkable, youthful fruit and that lovely garrigue which marks wine from this area.

2016 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge ? Pepper, spice, well-balanced, freshness, concentration. Accessible now. Alcohol is in check. ?2016 is what you want to have every year.? Indeed, lots of enthusiasm all across that part of France (and Piedmont, Tuscany for the 2016 vintage).

2012 Gran Partita Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge ? Picked on a ?fruit day.? The thirteen classic grapes are co-fermented ? a spicy, lovely, remarkably well-balanced wine. So rich, but not overpowering, lots of dimensionality. I?d love to cellar this wine. Well done!







wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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[11/03/2019, 15:15] 5 Italian Wine Buyers (that I wanted to challenge, gag and thank)
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Over the length of my career in the fine wine distribution channel, I encountered a few wine buyers that ?took the cake,? and I mean that in every sense. In sales, as in service, the customer is king. So, I had to learn to accept, reflect and occasionally deflect. It wasn?t all half-glass stuff, though. There truly were (and hopefully still are) some exemplary buyers of Italian wine in restaurants and fine wine shops. The following five are examples of archetypal Italian wine buyers - the good, the bad and the ugly - that I had close encounters with on the wine trail in Italy.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

Nero was right off the boat, landed in America in the 1980s in his 20s. America was like an all-you-can-eat oyster buffet to him. He took it all in, having spent his childhood and school years in an impoverished and backwater part of Italy. Let?s just say he was part of a very isolated tribe, and that?s the way they liked it. However, now he was in America and working his way through the Italian restaurants.

He was brash, he was hungry for praise, and he was pretty damn cocky. He was popular with the ladies, sometimes a little too popular. He broke a few hearts, had his heart broken a time or two. He upended a few lives, some pretty drastically. But to him, it was like taking a shower. Dry off, suit up and get back in the game!

When it came to wine, I found out early if it wasn?t his idea, I wasn?t going to sell him anything. He was very narrow in his view of Italian wines, and it didn?t always jive with the clientele. But he was a "real Italian" and he knew better. He was going to show them a thing or two! And so, he did.

I finally gave up. All the great wines I showed him, he always had to tear them down. His modus operandi was to be as judgmental as possible about any wine I was showing him if he didn?t know the wine.

Funny story. Years after I?d given up on him, I happened upon a food and wine event Nero was participating in. He called me over and asked me to try one of his new discoveries. It was a Piedmont red blend, and he was so proud of his discovery. I didn?t have the heart, or the interest anymore, to tell him I?d brought that wine into town 30 years before and knew the winemaker quite well. It wouldn?t have taken anyway, because then it wouldn?t have been all about him.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

GianFranco was like someone out of central casting. In fact, in the 1960?s he rolled with the rich and famous and never stopped. He knew Paul McCartney, and he even had a bit part in a famous movie by Vincent Minelli. GianFranco had a sunny disposition and brighter than life personality, and he exuded charm and grace.

And he knew wine. And he knew that I too, knew wine. So, when I went to see him, it was a conversation, a dialogue among equals. And If I happened to suggest some new wine, make a recommendation, he?d always listen, always taste and often buy, on the spot. He respected the hours and hours I put into my work. And always remembered to ask me, a single dad, about my son. ?How is the young lion?? he?d always ask. I loved making presentations to GianFranco, and I loved to eat in his restaurant. He made life and working in the wine trade a pleasurable experience.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Diego ? the name fit him well. For he was the quintessential supplanter. I?d known him around the industry for years, he was always in the back ground. He appeared to be of diminutive status (in one form or another). And I think it gave him a bit of a Napol?on complex. He was a terrible communicator, and his palate, well let?s just say the visible wavelength on which he operated was pretty narrow. He liked what he liked, and he expected his customers to like those wines. Period. Oh, and they had to be pricey, in order to imbue the list with the status he so wanted to convey. And on top of that, he had loads of ?discoveries? on the list, which were often marked up 5-7-10 times. They usually were closeouts.

I remember going in one time, and he poured me a white wine, which in color was dark golden, almost brown. It was wine, I?ll give him that. But it wasn?t very good. He?d bought it for $3 a bottle and was selling it for $12 a glass. He was so proud, levitating around the dining room with that bottle. It was the helium to his Hindenburg.

I gave up on Diego. I think the first straw was when he took off a wine by the glass that I?d sold him, when it was going gangbusters. He said he just wanted to change things up. I told him he made over $18,000 gross profit on that wine alone ? it wasn?t broken ? suggested he find some other category to ?fix.? He replied, ?People come here for me and my recommendations, not yours. They buy what I tell them to buy ? not what you beg me to buy.? That should have been the last straw. But I was a never-say-never kind of guy. Eventually I lost interest in that Sisyphean task and found other people to show wines to who appreciated my finds and respected my palate. Last time I heard, Diego was waiting tables in a pizzeria. Oh, and he was also ?doing? the wine list. And, if you want to place a wine by the glass, I?m told you need to bring your credit card and "run it" ? I think they call that pay-to-play. My response is an unqualified and resolute one - ?Adios Mofo.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Pete ? Pete liked pizza, and we all know wine is the best thing to go with pizza. Not beer, not Coke. Wine. Not Lambrusco, not a light Sangiovese. But big wines like Barolo, Brunello, Super Tuscans, Amarone, even Cabernet and Pinot Noir, as long as they were Italian ones. But Pete also had a narrow set of rules. No wine in any retail stores. Not just supermarkets, not chain retail stores, not big box stores. Yeah, they all disqualified the wine from his consideration. But also, the small fine wine stores, the specialty stores. ANY PLACE! Period. Why? I don?t really know. Maybe he wanted to mark it up higher? Maybe he wanted to be the person who made the wine famous? Maybe it?s like he?s Christopher Columbus and he?s got these three boats, see? And he wants to sail the across the world and discover India. You got it?

I remember he was selling a wine and going through hundreds of cases. I mean, he was the largest customer for this wine in the United States. He was making a killing! And then he saw it in a store about 15 miles from his restaurant. And he threatened to pull the wine if the store didn?t take it off the shelf. Yeah, you heard me. Are you getting a better understanding to why I am blissfully and ecstatically set to be out of the wine business? At least that part of it? I can?t make this shit up, folks.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Sam ? he and his brother Frank run this little store in an old neighborhood, you know like the kind they have in St. Louis on ?The Hill.? And people come from all over to get their Italian fix. I love this place, love to go get my eggplant and mushrooms, my fresh ricotta and my finely sliced mortadella. For years I sold wine to these guys, and we?re still friends. Now, that?s one for the books. Someone who still likes me, after taking years of pushing and prodding and cajoling from me.

Yeah, I made them some money. And I made some needed numbers. But at the base of all this was they trusted me to do the right thing ? for them, for their customers, for the winemakers and ultimately for Italy. Yeah, like me, they?re Italian-Americans - working stiffs. And like me, they got their piece of the American dream. But it?s damn hard work.

I never tallied it up, but probably something like a half a million bottles worked their way through Sam and Frank?s place during my tenure. And we never had to chase them down for money, never had to do a pay-to-play and never ever had to feel diminished in any way. They acted and still act like gentlemen. They know they are the front-line and the end-of-the-line for those grapes that were hanging on the vine a few months ago. And I like to think they feel the responsibility to give back to Italy and to the Italian wine community their support and allegiance. One word ? Respect.

So, there you have it. There are more ? but these, like I said, took the cake.

And to borrow a phrase from one of the songs in the movie that GianFranco was in, all those years ago, ?I'm so glad that I'm not young anymore.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy







wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[photos from the Library of Congress, National Geographic archives and from film stills]
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[10/27/2019, 16:07] In the Blink of an Eye
Tornadoes, Fires and Lynchings...

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The path of destruction from the Dallas tornado on October 19, 2019
Everything seems to be moving so fast. Maybe it?s the contraction of time you experience as you have more of it behind you than in front of you. Perhaps it?s the residue of all the moments in the present pressing forth upon those moments in the future. I don?t know, really, but what I do know, is that things can change in the blink of an eye.

When I was in Sicily in 2016 and woke up in the back of a car that had been hit by a truck, I was dazed and confused. ?Where am I?? where the first words I remember uttering. ?Sit down!? was the response. Good idea. I had several broken ribs, a knee that was bulging with a hematoma and a concussion. Not to mention various neck and musculoskeletal pains since. But we were alive, we made it through.


Last Sunday, after dinner, I went outside to look at the sky. It was 8:30 PM CST and as I looked up and to the northwest, something inside of me said this wasn?t going to be good. And barely an hour later, a tornado, ? of a mile wide, lasting for 36 minutes and blazing a path of terror for 15 miles, bore down upon our city, our neighborhoods and our lives.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Photo by Robert Wilonsky
All around us, friends and family were threatened. I don?t know how we escaped the wrath of that savage storm. Our plant store was wiped off the face of the map. One of our grocery stores, a hardware store, a couple of favorite restaurants, a fire station and multitudes of trees and birds and little animals were given their final death blow. 32 minutes of unbelievable terror that would last for years.

We hunkered down in the safe room (the wine closet) with the animals. Lights flickered, sirens went off all around us, and the howling of the wind through the trees, which 4 months ago had been ravaged by a hail and wind storm that tore our neighborhood (and our roof) apart. Here we were again, cowering under the foreboding shrill of wind and rain and unbelievable force.

When the tornado took a turn to the left a few miles before us (we were in its path up to then) I was relieved. But knew someone would be paying the price for our good fortune. Our neighbors, our friends, our doctors, many of them came home to scenes of destruction. And it all happened in the blink of an eye.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Photo by Robert Wilonsky - this tree, which stood for decades was thrown 20 feet
Yes, there?s that famous quote, attributed to Sofia Loren, which goes like this: ?Don?t cry over anything that can?t cry over you.? A small comfort to those who lost a pet or a venerated tree or a home their grandfather built. But it looks like no humans lost their life in Texas that night. And we can rebuild, we will rebuild.

Meanwhile, our friends and neighbors, colleagues and family are being evacuated from wine country and elsewhere in California. Once again, the homeland is raging out of control with fire and the wrath of nature. One wine writer notes, ??vineyards are surprisingly fire-resistant. They will survive.?

Yes, they will. But every year, something. Every blink of the eye, something. Endless, endless.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

I cannot write about wine today. Nor can I engage, now or anytime, on social media, with infobahn-bullies and cyber-stalkers. What?s the point?

Look, disasters hit everywhere. Houston to the south seems to be constantly plagued with their share of travails. At least the Astros are still in the running.

New Orleans, my sweet little ancestral disembarkation port, where my great, great grandfather landed. What horrors she has been subjected to. Did any of my ancestors witness the mass-lynching of 1891, when 11 Italian Americans were murdered by white nationalists? Yes, I can use the word ?lynch,? as it also happened to us.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Photo by Robert Wilonsky
Everywhere, it seems, we?re just a moment away from the noose or the halo, depending on where we are in history, in time. And our luck.

Today, I?m grieving for our friends and neighbors, and all the trees and little animals that didn?t have the luck we had, last Sunday.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The red dot = where we live - close to the path of the tornado
But we're alive, we made it through.

On the Wine Trail in Italy





 written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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[10/20/2019, 19:23] The Weight of Time - An Ancient Tuscan Family and Vineyard
On the Wine Trail in Italy
On a cool Friday afternoon in North Texas, autumn finally reached us. Time to put on the long pants, even socks. Maybe a jacket. Or pull that black Italian suit out of the closet and wear it. It fits now. After a year away from constant dining, wining and being part of the ever-so-involved wine world.

Now, it?s a different season for yours truly. But it is one I am digging in and rooting around. Not like there will be that much time, but we?re here, now. So, what is one to do?

How about a casual Friday afternoon lunch with a few friends, Italian and otherwise, all very nice, warm and cordial souls. And our hosts from Fonterutoli in Tuscany.


I can be a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to Tuscan wine. Not that I don?t like it. Actually, I have quite a bit stashed in my wine closet. Some sleeping in the cool dark peace of the room, waiting for their moment to shine. That is, when we aren?t huddling in it as a safe room to shield us from nearby tornadoes. Meanwhile, our Italian colleagues have brought their wine to shine and for us to enjoy.

The moment was to savor, over food, a small vertical of Fonterutoli?s Siepi, a blended red from Sangiovese and Merlot. And with Giovanni Mazzei, the 24th generation (of 25) in the family to lead us in the tasting. I think about that, that?s quite some time. Giovanni and I talked about that after the lunch and tasting over a coffee before he sprinted to the airport. But first, the wines.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
There were four wines: 2013, 2015, 2004 (in magnum) and the current US release, 2016, of the Castello di Fonterutoli Siepi.

2013 ? Delicate fruit, floral, almost this orange blossom kind of thing going on. It was a cool vintage. The wine had a good, strong entry, with ripe cherries and good balance ? slightly sour, but not off-putting at all. And again, a cherry on the top to finish.
Three impressive attributes ? Balance ? Length - Steady

2015 ? Our host, Giovanni Mazzei said the vintage was ?bright, open, a gastronomic vintage,? by way of introduction. I found a bright cherry (again) this time in the beginning. Also, a nutty quality along with a slight hint of vanilla. Tasting: Wow, bursting with fruit ? velvety finish. Looks to be a classic vintage.
Three outstanding (and subjective) attributes: Spice ? Power - Lovely

2004 ? ?Powerful, tannic vintage,? Giovanni remarked. I found brick in the color, cedar in the nose, with a slight tawny bouquet. Forest floor notes and a slight cedar quality as well in the nose. The tannins are fully tamed at this time.
Three notable attributes: Mellow ? Calm ? Ready

Giovanni noted here that he felt there were some similarities between the 2004 and the next wine, the 2016 ? Vanilla nose, again, Giovanni remarked, ?classic vintage.? My initial reaction to tasting was ?wow!? the entry was fabulous, quite a statement of play between the fruit and the tannins. Well balanced and the fruit, I must say, was perfect.
Three prominent attributes ? Power- balance ? Fruit

On the Wine Trail in Italy

In all four, there was a nice sway between the Sangiovese and the Merlot. The Sangiovese likes to dive and take chances, while and the Merlot will hug the floor, not falling or tipping. They make great dance partners, very complementary. And, very age-worthy.

A few words about Merlot ? it?s easy enough to bash the grape. But I am often startled by wines with Merlot. Easy enough to say about wines from the right bank in Bordeaux, or in places where there are resources enough to bring out the finest attributes of Merlot. Sadly, like Pinot Noir, there are too many examples of poor winemaking and the meagerest of sensitivity when it comes to the nature of the grape. Fortunately, at Fonterutoli, there has been more than adequate attention paid to the nature and destine oy Merlot. It has found another home in Italy. A beautiful one at that.

On to the navel-gazing portion of this piece?.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

While Giovanni was waiting to catch a ride to the airport, we had the chance to talk a bit. It seems his grandfather had the idea to catch up to modernity in the vineyards. The local nurseries, at the time, were pressing for international varieties to be planted, and while the grandfather planted Cabernet and Merlot, Giovanni says it was all done naturally, in an organic manner. ?The terroir was excellent for Merlot,? he said.

In fact, all the hubbub about international varieties often elicit laughs in Italy, and especially Tuscany. This place was, and remains, a crossroads for culture, for trade, and for the exchange of ideas, both philosophically and in practical terms.

I asked Giovanni if some relative, 5 ? 10 generations back, might have had an idea of what awaited their descendants in the 20th century. And as a follow-through, what he might be thinking in terms of what his offspring might receive from him, 200-300 years in the future, as a result of what his grandfather, and by extension he, might be planning and setting in motion. All pretty heady stuff, mind you. But we?d been baptized in the red wine of the region over lunch, and so those words flowed out into the room. ?Well, now we?re getting a bit philosophical,? he said. ?But I don?t know. I know that our family moved a lot over the past 25 generations. We left a lot of family crests on buildings and homes in Tuscany. We weren?t so much attracted to materialism; the trappings of the world weren?t what motivated my grandfather.? At the time, his grandfather was facing a world that had been turned upside down. War and destruction had cut a path through Tuscany as well as in lots of Italy and Europe.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

What impressed me about Giovanni wasn?t so much what he said or how he said it, but how he carried the weight of time without the burden. Life seems to truly be beautiful. And as well, so are these wines.



written and photographed (in the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci in Volterra) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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Imported into the US by Taub Family Selections
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[10/13/2019, 19:00] The Elite Cabal and Their Conspiracy for the Future of Wine
On the Wine Trail in Italy
90 was the first one to arrive, always early, always ready to please. He took a seat, at a table set for twelve, and waited patiently.

He always did well in school, and afterwards, in graduate school, he didn?t finish because he wanted to get right into the swing of things. 90 is action oriented, favorite quote is, ?Let?s make something happen.?

91 followed, looking a bit dazed and confused. She looked like she hadn?t slept in days, but she arrived in starched blouse and pressed trousers, no slouch was 91. Her biggest problem was that even though she excelled among her peers, she didn?t rise to the level of excellence that she was once thought capable of. But really, this was the same with 92, 93 and 94. They were good, very good. But not great. And great is what the world of premiumization is looking for. 92, 93 and 94 arrived and sat down on the other side of the table.


95 arrived five minutes late, as usual. But he?s the chairman of the group. He sits among the group and always strikes a balance between those on one side of him and those on the other.

96 showed up in a bright silver sports car, a Porsche or a Maserati. 96 likes exotica, and in her style of living, prefers to show it off. She?s good, she?s really, really good. But she?s a few points short of super turbo.

97, 98 and 99 turned up together in a black Lamborghini Urus SUV. They are often mistaken for on another, so brilliant is the gleam they each cast on anyone that gazes upon them. And they are a vison of sorts, gliding effortlessly from one place to another. They don?t walk, they levitate; nature (and Lamborghini) propels them, causing everything in their wake to follow them to the ends of the earth. They are excellence personified. But they aren?t quite the pinnacle.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

That goes to 100, who just appears, whenever and however it wants to. Neither a he or a she, why would 100 limit themselves to commonplace classifications? 100 is the top, Everest, K2, Kilimanjaro and Mars, all rolled up into one. Now the tasting may begin. A working one, because being the best means to never sleep.

95: ?Call to order, while the AI-somMS are decanting the wines, is there any new business??

91: Yes, we are eleven of us and there are twelve chairs. We have two others, claiming a seat at the table.?

96: ?How can that be? There no others worthy of sitting at this table. So, there is an extra chair. We can always take it out from the table.?

93: ?That may be, but word has it that you, along with 97,98, 99 and 100 proposed a smaller table for just the five of you. That will never stand!?

90, 91, 92 and 94, in unison, as if they were a barbershop quartet: ?Hear! Hear!?

95: ?Order! Enough of this! We are eleven and we will not shrink. Some of you may have higher prestige, but we, in this room, are the ultimate influencers for millions of wine drinkers ? do not forget it ? #WeAreThePower!?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

100: ?Oh really, you think you all are so powerful and influential? I remind you, all of you are merely two-digit characters, while I am the only three-digit one. If anyone here should say whether or not another numerical has a seat at the table, it jolly well should be me. After all, it cannot get any higher than me. And who are these rogues??

95: ?These two 'rogues?, as you call them, are legitimate applicants. One is in the vestibule, waiting. The other should be here anytime, as his flight from Hong Kong was slightly delayed.?

Meanwhile the AI-somMS wheeled into the room with the decanted wine. ?Thank you, that will be all,? 95 said. ?You may go back to the cellar now and await our further instructions.? The wine was Burlotto's 2013 Barolo Monvigliero.

100: ?That is more like it. Start at the top, never a disappointment with the best! Although it is still a good way from it's prime.?

There was a knock at the door. The chamberlain left to answer.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

95: ?The knock most likely signifies that the applicant from Hong Kong has finally arrived. In the meantime, the reason why I called you here for this convocation is discuss our succession plan and our path towards greater inclusiveness. It has come to the attention of this board that we have become an instrument of an elitist movement in wine. From private wine restaurant clubs in Hudson Yards to exclusive wine bars in Hong Kong?s Soho district, we?re being seen, more and more, as aloof and inaccessible to the aspirational, the young and the 99%. More and more, we have come to represent something out of reach, and by association, out of touch. Wine, especially the ones we evince, symbolize something for only the fortunate few. Wine, locked in a vault, never to be opened or enjoyed. Wine as a trophy. Wine as a status symbol. Meanwhile, we are losing elite members, as they are dying. And their heirs don?t care about precious things as much as their parents did. We are in crisis!?

100: ?So, what do you propose we do, pour it all down the drain and go away? We?ve worked hard to get here, we are the ultimate expression of wine, are we not??

98: ?I agree, heartily, and my colleague 99 and I concur that there is a need for the unsurpassable. We are the champions; we are the winners! And we deserve to be honored thusly!?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

91: ?You might find that easy to say, but from where I sit, we are losing those tomorrows-to-come. We need greater inclusion, if we are to be relevant in the not-too-distant future. I have an applicant in the vestibule and I?d like to nominate them.?

95: ?Alright, order! We must come to some kind of agreement in this room, and there clearly is another seat at this august table for some reason. So, we must decide and put it to a vote.?

Meanwhile, the chamberlain, came into the room and whispered in 95?s ear. ?Oh, I see. Well, that changes everything!? 95 was clearly disconcerted. Then the chamberlain asked, ?Shall I instruct the AI-somMS to roll in the next wine? It is the 1961 La Chapelle.? ?Yes," answered 95. "And as for our two guests, bring them both in now. Let?s get this matter sorted out before the wine spoils!?

In walked the two outliers. There was an audible collective gasp. Before this group were the two candidates. No one was more shocked than 100. ?Well, I?ll be damned if one of these gets to sit at the table!? 100 was clearly rattled. "Who let this imposter from Hong Kong in? Is there no decency, no honor, in this world anymore??

90, as well, was perturbed. ?I don?t mean to let the plebs in. 91, what the hell is wrong with you? What is happening to this world?? 91, hissed, and then purred, as the ?61 La Chapelle wafted from the glass.

95 arose and looked over the room, while also savoring the flavors of the ?61. ?Well, then esteemed colleagues, it seems we must have a vote. Or does anyone have another idea?"

To the right of 95, 96 stood up. ?Yes, I have an idea. Let them do battle and the strongest one, the last one standing, gets a seat at the table.? Everyone at the table appeared to approve of this proposal.

?Very well,? said 95, and looking at the two contestants, asked ?And what are we to call you?? The number on the right answered, ?I'm Gigondas Quatre-vingt-neuf, but you can call me Josh.?

The one to the left, brandishing enough aplomb for the room, replied, ?I?m 101, #TheOnlyOne. But you can call me Giacomo.?

At which time, 90 bellowed, ?Alright, let?s make something happen!?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

And that is where must leave it for now?





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[10/07/2019, 04:59] Are Wine Ambassadors Worth the Time and Money?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
(This one is)
Is the role of the wine ambassador in the era of social media an experiment that has yet to see its star rise or has that sun already set? With wholesale consolidation approaching event horizon and with sales force automation becoming more prevalent, how do you get the drum beat, the cheerleader, when historically that was left to the distributor?s sales force?

This commentary is directed primarily towards companies (importers, wholesale distributors, wine regions and consortiums, and well-financed wineries) but if you are a wine ambassador or are considering to become one, there are some relevant points here for you as well.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

The role of the ambassador has been expanding in the last 10 years. They range from full-time jobs with all the employee benefits to part-time (gig) with no employee status (or benefits), essentially an independent gun-for-hire. But does the ambassador concept work? Let?s take a look.

If hired full-time, an ambassador affords a company the opportunity to capture all the time and the attention of the ambassador. It benefits the ambassador, too, because he or she has the advantage of full-time employment and can give their all to the project.

Needs dictate what a company can afford, and often they are just looking for someone to ?jump start? a project. While it might seem more economical for a company to hire on a part-time or seasonal basis, there are some pitfalls to this.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Full disclosure ? when I left my full-time position (in distribution) in March of 2018, I was contacted by an importer on behalf of a winery that hired me as their ambassador. I did not work for any other company, although I still wrote some articles for my local paper (Dallas Morning News) and kept my blog going. But I did not write about the winery or even the category of the wine during that time. That, I felt (as did the importer) was off-limits and would not appear on the up-and-up.

I discovered a couple of things about ?ambassadoring.? Mainly, that the goal is to increase exposure, and sales, of the product(s). That was the bottom line. It wasn?t to grow my social media presence, to increase my status as an ?influencer? or to get free junkets to other places in the world of wine. In fact, the winery I ambassadored for (Ruggeri in Valdobbiadene) was pretty hands-off about my movements. I went to the winery once, when I was already in Italy. But I didn?t spend harvest there or take people from distributors, or bloggers, to visit the winery. My role was to cover America and try and help make the winery into a more recognizable name. And, to make the name better known by increasing distribution (thereby, exposure) in fine retail shops and restaurants. It was a road-warrior position, for sure. And it worked for all of us, although I will say, there are other iterations of ?ambassadorship? that also have validity.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

What doesn?t work? What doesn?t work is when an ambassador sees the position as one of a handful of income streams that satisfy their need for a particular level of income. If one gets three or four of these gigs in a year, they can earn anywhere from $50,000-$150,000. But it takes a special person to have three or four masters and still maintain integrity.

It?s hard enough doing a good job for one project. It?s near impossible to do it for a handful of companies. Now, I?m talking about ambassadorships. Not someone who does p.r., writes blogs and goes about their daily business making sure the world knows about their clients. That?s more of a ballyhoo, and if done well, it?s plenty hard work. But I?m not talking about those folks.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

No, I?m talking about someone who is the front-person for the company. In a full-time role, that?s much easier, because there is structure. In a part-time ?ad hoc? role, there are subtle gradations. One, is to know what to do, on a regular basis and to commit oneself to those activities to achieve a certain goal. There are no ethical codes for this, except as comes from the moral backbone of individuals. It?s not like working for a newspaper and knowing one cannot take a junket. And it?s not like working for a corporation which has an HR department and guidelines (for example, a wine ambassador for Importer W could never, should never, take a trip to visit a winery from Importer X, Y or Z). That is unethical.

It can get tricky. Let?s say you are an ambassador for a consortium of producers of Napa Valley Cabernet. And let?s say you are invited, all expenses paid, to visit a consortium of Sonoma Valley Cabernet producers. On the surface, it looks ok, even beneficial. But, in reality, the two groups are competing, often for the same consumer dollars. In my view, it would be wrong to take a trip. Here?s why.

You might reason as long as the Napa Valley folks don?t mind, who gets hurt by it? Let me tell you who: You. Your reputation that would be tainted by the appearance of conflict. A black mark.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

But people have different parameters in the new world of social media, you say. Influencers have leeway, because they are so influential. You might be an influencer today, but who knows about tomorrow? The wine world is a small community - if you screw up your reputation, people don?t forget.

When it?s all said and done, it gets down to how effective you can be ? the metrics. It is about sales, no matter which lofty minded dreamers are out there saying, ?No, it?s not about sales, it?s about the wine, man.? Ok, keep dreaming. It?s about revenue and growing the brand awareness.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

If you are a winery, a consortium or an importer, and an ambassador is something you are considering, here?s a little homework before the handshake:

1) Ask or check to see if your future ambassador has previous commitments that might be in conflict with your products.

2) Before hiring someone, get all the ground rules laid out, e.g. avoidance of conflict of interest, amount of time that will be devoted to your enterprise, junkets to wine country that might appear to rival your project.

3) Lay out what exactly needs to be done, whether it is in the sales end, the education side or the cheerleader department, and make sure you are clear about how much time the future ambassador should devote to each area. The last thing you need is for someone to sit at their screen tweeting all day ? that?s so 2006.

4) Give a timeline and a goal (such as, improve the sales of the brand in 12 months by 15%, etc.). Without a goal, why are you even considering such a role?

5) Never, ever, do something because your competitor is doing it. Never, ever, do something for the sake of ?status? or because it appears to be the thing to do. If you have that much money lying around, invest it in a brand manager, full-time and get 100% of their time and attention.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

All that said, being an ambassador - having an ambassador ? is cool. And many ambassadors I have talked to are genuinely excited and motivated about their products. Yes, there are the few just looking to cash in on the latest trend, the next phase, and they move from project to project. It?s a cash grab for them (and also there?s the element of prestige). Don?t throw away your money on someone just looking to make a name for themselves at your expense. They don?t own the land; they haven?t taken the risk to start a company and make that dream come true. But an ambassador can be a great value, as long as they share the values, the vision and the work ethic of the business owner who dares to dream big.



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[09/29/2019, 20:32] Wine writers and their most faithful followers
On the Wine Trail in Italy
For those perched inside the balloon of the wine world, a self-contained orb, there?s little to worry about an expanding universe. The problems of string theory or quantum mechanics matter not, to those vying for their spot on the head of the pin, placed strategically in the middle of the balloon. Little concern there is, as well, for any possibility that the sharp end of that needle might pierce their tiny world and all will be lost. Wine writers live in an alternate cosmos. There aren?t the normal repercussions that normal writers must face. The book writer, and hopeful publisher, gnash about in the trendy nosh parlors of Shoreditch, swirling their Manzanilla, while cobbling their strategy to sell 1,000 books. It?s perfect. It must be the alcohol, which casts that euphoric fog.


It seems the gold rush these days is for followers, to find people one can exert influence over, to point them to a journey where they too can hope to drink Chambolle-Musigny from Roumier. ?'tis a consummation. Devoutly to be wish'd.?

The revelation came to me during a victory nap. I dozed off while Instagram needles pierced my eye - all those significant bottles held up by all those brilliant iPhone curators. ?To sleep ? perchance to dream.?

And then, I had the dream.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It?s like this, when you have one foot in that world and one in another (perhaps the grave?). The vision, though, was one from my early days in the wine trade. Sales were growing, the deep funk of the 1980?s was receding like a Venezuelan glacier. People were getting over their petrol-panic in places like Houston and Midland, Texas, and they wanted to drink again.

And over time, buoyed by numerical scoring based on the 100-point scale, wine took off. Pre-internet, pre-Instagram. Pre-influencers. Just a handful of wine writers, and their tasting notes. And their scores.

Wine writers like to think that readers are influenced by them. But what really moves the needle? If a powerful critic makes an impression on their 50,000 readers, or their 500,000 subscribers, is that really the ultimate measure of their influence? For years I analyzed the metrics in my role in the wholesale end of things. And this is what I found out.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Five salespeople, properly motivated and tuned into these things, can sell more wine than 50,000 readers (and potential consumers). Not to downplay the effect of a good write-up in a large newspaper or one of the reigning modern-day wine publications. They sell wine, especially the 95-100 pointers. But those 87-94 wines - the ones that the trophy hunters cannot and will not spare any room in their cellars for, as they?re obsessed with filling them up with the likes of Sine Qua Non and Le Pin - what happens to them? So, the question is, for a wine writer, do you keep writing about those wines, and if you decide to do so, how does this help affect some upward mobility for those wines in the wine world?

Consumers do account for a ton of response (and action), but who?s really doing the heavy lifting? Those five salespeople? In five cities, in five states, in five countries? I think we don?t realize just how much wine they sell, because those metrics are not made available to industry outsiders. That is considered proprietary information by the distributor, if that information is even gathered. I know it can be, because I did so for many years. It was an amazing look into the world of sales. Yes, the writers strike the match, but the salespeople walk around the barn with a handful of straw ablaze setting it on fire.

Oh, I know it?s unpopular to consider the role of those ?minor players? in the three-tier world. After all, aren?t we all influencers now, in our own special way? Anyone with an Instagram feed and 5,000 followers thinks so. They?ll tell you; you don?t have to even ask. But ask them to back it up with metrics and you get a fist full of hash tags and fustian tropes. There?s no needle. There?s no vinyl. And there?s no there-there.


Part of the problem is that wine critics might not even have a complete understanding of the industry. I hear often, ?that?s the commercial side. We?re on the editorial side.? As if there?s a wall that separates them. And in journalistic realms, rightfully so. One of the commandments, ?There shall be no pay-to-play,? is engrained within the ethical structure of such institutions. The mightier and more independent wine critics can choose to adopt that stance, or muddy it with the flaps of their Range Rovers as they run over it in the sodden streets of Sheung Wan.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Ironically, the salesperson doesn?t discriminate. Right or wrong, 92 points is 92 points. And if it?s a Brunello that one can sell 50 cases of to a restaurant or retailer for $25.00, they aren?t going to give a hang ?who? writes about it ? as long as it?s one of the ?BIG? types doing the typing. Yes, that?s the seamy downside to this business. And by the way, the wineries are on board with this in an even bigger way. They think nothing to plunk down $10-20,000 to pour their ?97? point-er at an event in the clouds. They move that needle. And their importers and distributors down-line comply. Because everyone wants to sell and make money and have a successful career. I?ve seen it up front, on the windshield, all splattery and sometimes not so pretty.

So, what am I getting at? I think there?s a strategy that wine writers neglect to consider when they take the leap, in the crowded field of wine criticism, where there?s not a lot of money lying around and every nickel-and-dime blogger is vying for their corner of online presence (and FAME!). And that is to take into account - when you write a piece - who will read it and what kind of measurable effect will it have. "Ay, there?s the rub."


I know there are the purists and naturalistas out there who say, ?It?s not about sales.? And for every one of you out there who thinks that, you have either minimized the impact in that area or you haven?t gotten into it deeply enough to know the Zen of it. It?s there, it?s real and if you don?t believe me, well, there?s a chap in Maryland who got there first and he channeled into the mindset of the salesperson. And they got behind him and were his most faithful followers. And they moved the needle off the Richter.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

?Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.?









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