ENTHUSIAST'S CORNER April 2000



Wine, the Web and Tradition

Every April we dedicate our cover story to a facet of Italian wine. This year it's delightful Dolcetto and its partner, the brawnier Barbera, and the down-home quality shared by this Piedmont pair is reinforcement that wine, in particular wine from Italy, is the epitome of "earthy."

But what, then, is the opposite of something as earthy as Italian vino rossi? Might it be something as surreal as the Internet? Actually, terra firma and cyberspace are becoming increasingly interconnected. Just look at the half-dozen or so multimillion dollar wine/web deals that have gone down within the past nine months.

Not that this bothers me. I'm not some traditionalist who yearns for the good old days. Recently, I attended an e-commerce seminar at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. and I quickly found out that we Americans are far from alone in mapping the future. Many of the people in attendance were Europeans. My colleagues had come all the way to Boston to glean information on how they could carve out their own turf on the Web. One of the attendees, the president of an Italian "cybermall," told me that his goal is to develop a website that allows shoppers to visit virtual stores for all the best Italy has to offer.

If those are his guidelines, I imagine such a store carrying fine art, Prada and Gucci clothes, Perugia chocolate, prosciutto di Parma, a plethora of fine wines, and maybe even a Ferrari roadster. I can only wonder what Michelangelo would say if he saw reproductions of his Sistine Chapel mural and little statuettes of David in cyberspace. Would he think it an April Fool's gag, like the clever tongue-in-cheek articles our editors cooked up this month for the opening pages of our Vine Cuttings department?

Back down to earth, with those Barberas and Dolcettos: Our editors recently sampled nearly 150 of these food-friendly Piedmontese reds, and the results are in, starting on page 36. With 20 percent of the field notching 90 points or better, now is a good time to explore these wines.

Closer to home, our California eye is turned toward Monterey and the amazing progress this once-maligned county has made with its premium wines. Maybe you already know from first-hand experience that Monterey Chardonnays are first-rate, but now the Pinot Noirs and Syrahs are world-class, too. See page 28 for the story.

And with Passover on the calendar this month, we take a look at the growing world of premium kosher wines. Whether it's from France, Italy, California, Australia or Israel, kosher wine today ain't what it used to be. The heavy sweet stuff we drank as kids at seders has fortunately been supplemented by more sophisticated wines.

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Lastly, I'd like to conclude with a personal note on the January passing of Pat Cetta, co-owner of Sparks in New York City. Pat was the dean among American steakhouse restaurateurs. His roots were in Italy but his passion for wine was fueled in Manhattan. Virtually every day Cetta hosted hundreds of well-heeled New Yorkers and visitors to spectacular steaks and equally spectacular wines chosen from his incredibly deep cellar. Stated simply: Cetta built Sparks into a veritable Mecca for wine.

Maybe the best story I can offer about Pat occurred about 20 years ago. He had just cleaned out a distributor's entire inventory of the glorious Sterling 1974 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and was using it as a house pour. When asked why he would pour such a rare and expensive wine by the glass without charging a premium, Pat's answer was straightforward: "The quality of a restaurant's house red speaks loudly about the philosophy of the owners and what the kitchen will eventually serve." Pat Cetta set the stage for today's generation of young restaurateurs, who are expanding wine knowledge by understanding the benefits of providing better-quality wines to their patrons. His enthusiasm and charm will be sorely missed.

-Adam M. Strum

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