This is certainly a breezy, easy read, but not particularly enlightening. Yes, here's yet another heartwarming story of yet another fellow 'living the dream,' but I found it very hard to connect the dots, or to connect with the author. Mr. Pasanella speaks often about going out on a financial limb to open his little wine shop, but here is a gent with the wherewithal to buy a five story building in Manhattan, for gosh sakes. Out of nowhere, he's parking his priceless, vintage Ferrari in the middle of the shop as a prop. Say what? A variety of marquee names just happen to drop by - Martha Stewart, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, et al. Sure thing, that happens in every little retail wine shop around the corner. No, not in my experience in the retail wine trade as it is plied by small proprietorships.
There are also occasional bouts of outright misinformation - Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese definitely is not a wine from "a mythic Austrian producer," but so the author says. Mr. Pasanella also states at one point that taking the time and making the effort to travel from cellar to cellar to taste and buy in Burgundy, the Loire, the Rhone or elsewhere is pretty useless, because the "three tier system" precludes retailers from sourcing wine for resale from anyone but local distributors, and heck, all the good stuff is already taken anyway. Well, it ain't so - and his own book contradicts that view, as Pasanella later recounts his successful effort to create and import his own inexpensive 'store brand' wines from Italy. The ground is certainly well trodden and it is increasingly difficult to find growers who are not already represented - but there are always surprises to be found, diamonds in the rough. And there is always a way to more or less direct import, despite the byzantine laws governing the importation, wholesale and retail sale of wine in the U.S.
I've been a passionate student of wine for over three decades, mostly as a collector and 'amateur,' but I also spent some years working in the trade. This book simply didn't ring true to me, nor did it convey any fresh insights about wine or the wine business. The Appendix is particularly superfluous and superficial - consisting of rather flip, snarky and pretty much useless 'tips' about wine tasting, tasting vocabulary and so on.
The book starts with a promising premise. For me, at least, it did not go very far towards delivering on the promise.
"Uncorked" is an excellent memoir of one man's quest to become involved in the wine business. Marco Paasanella is a wildly successful builder, writer and teacher-a graduate of Yale, his furniture and houseware pieces are on display at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Pasanella taught at the Parsons school of Design for years and published articles in Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times. The author had a dream, and decided to fulfill his lifelong adult dream of opening a wine shop in Manhatten, as well as starting his own wine label. Deeply in debt, and in worry, he opens his restaurant/wine business/wine shop called Passanella and Son Vinters; which grew to become a big hit. This five story shop/restaurant has been regularly featured on cooking channels and has had newspaper and magazine coverage.
Pasanella writes with humor of his decision to start a business at age 43. This book includes recipes too-I have not had an opportunity to try them, but some of them look tasty. If you enjoy wine, particularly Italian wines (although most wines are discussed) you will enjoy reminiscing about certain wines and enjoy learning about ones you may not have tasted yet.
My favorite part of the book was the appendix. In the appendix the author lists the five biggest misconceptions about wine, the ten strangest words in wine (love that cat's piss one!), five tips on tasting wine, ten ways to taste without feeling like a snob, ten of my favorite wine and food pairings, and toasts for weddings, graduations, birthdays, etc. I plan to use this book as a reference for special occasions for some time!
on December 7, 2012
This review was originally published on 205Food.com
The wine world may be crazy, but Marco Pasanella is not.
Sure, abandoning a successful career in design to start a new wine shop may seem foolish, even nutty, to some. But Pasanella is too humane, too forgetful, too much in love with la dolce vita to to be unhinged by the shenanigans swirling about him. He is calm, the eye of the wine shop hurricane, moving peaceably along as careers and businesses (his own included) splinter around him.
So the title of this book is a bit misleading. There is little suspense, drama, or spicy intrigue in Uncorked. One does not really feel the craziness of the wine world or that Marco is in any way unhinged by it. This may be due in part to Pasanella's inexperience as a writer, but his forgetfulness seems like a factor too (a meal in La Morra was "a haze," after a conversation with Neal Rosenthal "I couldn't tell you a thing Neal said.") Intrigue and suspense need details.
In many ways, this book is less about the inception of a wine shop than about Marco Pasanella himself, and he is a very appealing character. Modest and self-deprecating, he admits that before opening the wine shop he had been drinking wine "all [his] life but never really tasted it..." He depends on the experience of others for wine selection and business tactics, and admits as much. As a reader, you admire his playful and adventurous spirit. He designs his store around a 1967 Ferrari. He organizes card playing and grappa tasting evenings at his enotecha. One Christmas there is even a live camel outside the store to accompany the manger.
The low-key charm the book radiates is enhanced by Marco's descriptions of summer trips back home, to father, family and Italy. He gathers recipes (Lisetta's Special Salt, Fried Sage Leaves and others are scattered through the book), visits a biodynamic wine maker, finds a Tuscan to vint a house brand for the wine shop, and, sadly, there is a final visit for his father's funeral. At the conclusion of this book, Marco feels like a friend. You like him. You like his book.
But sometimes you wish the book was about Janet Hoover instead.
One day, on a quick trip to Whole Foods to pick up a few items for his wife's 30th birthday party, Marco Pasanella meets Janet Hoover. She is working behind the cheese counter, and manages to sell him $200 worth of goods. But the tattooed counter worker sells Marco on herself too, on her work history at Acker Merrall and Sotheby's, on her knowledge of wine.
Janet was a fireball from the start, instructing Pasanella on "point-of-sale systems, delivery trucks, and must-have wines." She introduced him to sexy red burgundies and amazed him with her blind tasting skills. But events stalled the opening of the store, and Janet found time in the afternoon to disappear from work, returning late in the day with purple teeth. On the day of the shop's grand opening Janet Hoover quit.
Just as suddenly, she "unquits." In short order Janet takes a group of esteemed French wine makers to the Hustler Club (attending "personally" to one of them), urges Marco to hire a new employee (soon let go), and is seen making out with a sale's rep at the store's first Christmas party. Marco buys her a trip to Burgundy and she returns two weeks late. It is time to let her go, isn't it? Janet Hoover is dismissed, with surprising gentleness.
Although gone, she was not easily forgotten. Shortly after Janet's departure, Pasanella discovered she had lifted the store's email list and was selling wine -- without a liquor license. Soon after, she is hired by a New York liquor distributor and made a partner. He relates all this with remarkably little acrimony.
The story of Janet Hoover in Uncorked includes quite a few holes and head scratchers. I'm waiting for Janet's version. This is a crazy story I would love to read.
Uncorked does a good job of describing the machinery of the wine industry. The overview is fairly elementary though, and won't provide any insight to wine industry insiders, or even to readers of the Wine Spectator. There are a quite a few minor errors in the book, some described by Len Dawson in his very good review. The book is fairly slight too, barely reaching 200 pages, and then only with the help of some padding in the appendices. Still, this is an easy, breezy, atmospheric summer read, and you will feel like Marco Pasanella has told a nice intimate story by the end of the book.
To say this is a story of a man that opens a wine store in New York City, is like saying Moby Dick is the story of a man fishing. This book is indeed the journey of the author as he jumps feet first into the wine business of the 2000's, but is brought alive by his skillful telling of his life's journey that brought him to that point and his lifelong appreciation of good food, good wine, and good company.
Interspersed throughout the book are a few of the author's favorite recipes - mostly Italian.
As one who worked in the Wall Street area, and occasionally on a sunny spring or fall day, took a walk to Sloppy Louie's, or the South Street Seaport area, I can tell you that the author has nailed exactly the "feel" of the neighborhood in which he chose to open his wine shop. (The recipe for Sloppy Louie's Catfish is dead on!)
The details of the wine business in New York, are laid out in an amusing manor, and show the frustrating nature of the laws involved.
His details of the mundane part of running a business - finding the right employees, cash flow, expansion, etc. give the reader the feeling that they are actually there as the author pushes forward with his new business venture.
Also, the author throws in just enough of the methods of making wine, so that the novice won't be lost. But, he has enough stories and details to keep the dedicated oenophile interested.
This was a fun book to read if you are "into wine" and especially so, if you have lived or worked in New York City.
Uncorked tells the story of Marco Pasanella, an upper-crust professional who abandoned the security of his profession in the pursuit of his passion of wine. Pasanella opens a wine shop, which is now considered one of the best in the country, and his book chronicles the trials and tribulations of doing so. At its best, Uncorked is a fascinating read -- especially for people interested in both entrepreneurialism and wine, like I am. However, Pasanella is far too verbose, padding each paragraph with overly flowery language, and with anecdotes and stories that don't really contribute to his central thesis. The book was worth reading, but it could have been shorter; more to the point.
I thought that this would be more about what goes into making wine, but it turns out to be the tale of opening a wine shop in NYC. Being a retailer myself, it was interesting to see the parallels to our own business and the differences being in a city as opposed to a small town, as I am. It offers somewhat of an education about the different kinds of wine, but if you're already familiar with various labels, the book will mean more to you. I enjoyed the travelogue to visit the family in Italy and enjoyed the recipes as well. So, if you're looking for info on what goes into wine making, this isn't the book for you. But if you look at it as the title says, a "journey", you should enjoy it.
on May 31, 2012
Nicely done! Who can't relate to giving up the safe and known in mid-life to set out on one's own course with lots of uncertainties, risks, and challenges? A great writing style, nice choice of words, informality, and sense of humor make this a very enjoyable story. Educational for those with an interest in wines or opening a wine store, but inspirational for everyone. I'm not a cook but I'm sure the intermittent recipes will appeal to some. A fun read with useful lessons. If Mr. Pasanella writes more I look forward to reading them.
Wow! What a journey and what a fun read! I was horrifed and yet read with admiration as the financial and personal peril this couple put themselves thru to pursue a dream of a wine shop unfolded. I felt like I was a friend of the family by the end and that somehow I had personally shared in their adventure.
Great tips on wine, food, personal discovery, dealing with all sorts of people and "going broke" for your dream. I highly reccomend this book to anyone who enjoys wine, food, or is thinking of a life change that is full of risk.
Marco Pasanella's midlife crisis was unusually privileged, as he was able to purchase a building in Manhattan and open a wine store! While such feats may be beyond lesser mortals, at least he has shared the experience with us in this charming book, recounting the trials of starting (and maintaining) his business. Pasanella also opens the doors a bit, allowing us a peek inside the wine industry, from the esoterica of small family producers to the darker mysteries of large commercial distribution and import regulations. Pasanella's writing is smooth and fast-paced, and he has a gift for conveying mood. He also manages to impart a lot of information in a light-handed way. He loves food and wine, and the social pleasure they bring, and he offers recipes closely linked to the narrative. As a foodie without much sophisticated knowledge of wine, I am grateful for the appendix in which he provides straightforward tips for cultivating an appreciation of wine.
There's less drama in the telling than there was in the story. Marco Pasanella opens a wine shop in lower Manhattan when it was still controlled by the fish market and mafioso types. The fish and mobsters disappear, wine salesman show up, employees steal, bills go unpaid, and other seemingly good stories pass by without gravity. The trials of opening a wine store and surviving a system rigged by lawmakers, law enforcers, and big distributors have equal weight with a bad electrical system.
Pasanella obviously has a lot he could tell. The promotional materials compared this book to Kitchen Confidential, a book more focused on individual stories and ideas than chronology. Although I enjoyed the book, reading it in one sitting, it isn't an "exploration of the wine underbelly". Indeed, it seems to hardly leave the shop.