The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Monday in Manhattan, or

This Ain’t no Holiday - The Ups and Downs of Day Tripping Through the East Village

One day in Manhattan can be escape enough to free weary wine workers from lingering memories of their run-of-the-mill retail tribulations. So on my Monday off I embarked (eventually) for New York. When 24 hours are all you have to see culinary paradise, it’s best to arrive early. Sadly my traveling companions, who happened to be in possession of my boarding pass, were Restauant People, a tight-knit clan of pasty nocturnal folk typically unfamiliar with the dawn, so we missed our flight. To tell the truth, we were searched twice pre-boarding (shifty looking Beverage Managers!) which impeded our progress just enough to make the sprint for the gate end in frustration, obscenities, and a good long look at our plane backing slowly away from the terminal. But you’ve all been there, so we’ll skip ahead to Manhattan.

So many wonderful wine bars! I suspect wine consumers in NYC are no more savvy than their counterparts in worldy, academic Chapel Hill, but there is a startling difference in the products New Yorkers can consume at their favorite enoteca. The lists we surveyed and sampled from on our sojurn challenged drinkers by presenting wines made by innovative, distinct and quality-oriented small producers, and (this was most refreshing) through this approach avoided underestimating the taste and intelligence of the establishments’ patrons. Nothing was dumbed down. In a heartening display of sanity, the staff at ‘enoteca in Soho, Casa Mono near Union Square, and Bar Veloce in the East Village present their customers with wines that they indeed would drink at home, or while out on the town. In the pretention-strewn world of wine, this is revolutionary straight-shootin’.

And sadly, it is rarely the state of affairs in the Triangle’s wine bars and stores. We’re not immune. Here’s mine own mea culpa. Like perhaps every well-intentioned wine seller in the world, we’ve never stocked items the staff consider so be downright bad, but many mediocre/ubiqitous "grocery store products" have historically been given a free pass because of either caveat a. People came looking for them and we thought of it as providing a service, after all, if someone wants an item, why would you turn them away? Or b. They were the cutting edge, best products available when we picked them up, but popularity led to increase in production and a gradual, sometimes decade-long slide into mediocrity. No retailer wants to say no to sales, but here is my rationale for the ongoing removal of these brands from our store’s shelves. 1. They’re taking space away from the wines you deserve to go home with. If I can taste the difference, so can you, and I want to sell you products we’re really pumped up about. We’re replacing the brands in question with wine we feel is better, or cheaper, in the same styles. 2. The other stuff is very readily available as it stands. If you sincerely can’t live without the brands we’re phasing out, we can still special order it for you, or (gasp!) You can find it at Kroger. There is nothing wrong with Supermarket brands, but they do belong in the Supermarket. If you come to A Southern Season to buy wine I believe you are looking for the best gourmet products available from around the world, and I’m determined to give that to you. That is how we become friends. You give me money, and I do my darndest to give you the best possible experience you could ever have with vino. It’s the little secret that’s made us have so many return customers through the years, and I don’t doubt for a second it is the right formula.

Back to the Bronx. Ok, the Lower East Side. The business end of our day commenced at the restaurant Hearth, and included 69 of the best indigenous Italian wines you could hope to find in one room, and one oddball delicious biodynamic Chilean wine. The showstopper in my estimation was the 2001 Cesani Luenzo, a study in balance, nuance, finesse. This food-friendly Tuscan red couples mouthwatering black cherry aromas to a velvety, palatecoating texture. In short, as close to perfect Tuscan wine as I’ve encountered recently for less than a fortune. Five cases are headed our way, so if you’re interested. . . .At dinner Letezia Cesani explained it this way. "We (the Cesani Family, but by inference, Italians) only have wine with food", she said. "We don’t do ‘cocktail’ wines". This approach explains the simple elegance and ripeness of their products- they are crafted as food, for serving with food.

Meeting the dozen earnest, hardworking Italian wine people at Hearth sent me home with a renewed sense of purpose, and a strengthened belief in the importance of protecting the diversity of indigenous food and wine products from across Europe and around the world. Purchasing a small-grower wine in America, be it from the portfolio of Montecastelli, Neil Rosenthal, Terry Theise, or any of a handful of other dedicated importers, helps preserve a group of special products, and allows the communities that harvest them to survive. And you get a wine that speaks of somewhere special. It’s an easy form of altruism. I firmly believe our customers aren’t merely looking for a buzz, they want wine that is evocative, ethereal, multifaceted and on some level deeply satisfying. Enough touchy/feely talk. I’m ok and you’re ok, but is your wine ok? Come see us and we’ll make sure it is.


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