Monday, September 21, 2020

Big Dogs of Italian Wine New York Revisited 2020


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Marchese Lamberto Frescobaldi 

with Author Daniel Bellino-Zwicke 
and Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi


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with Friends Daniel Bellino-Zwicke 


                                                                                                                                   September 20, 2020

Yes for 20 years I was a Big Dog of Italian Wine. Italian Wine in New York that. You see, New York is the # 1 Wine Wine Market in the entire World, meaning they sell more wine the any other place on Earth, so if you make wine, you want to sell it in New York more than anywhere else on the Planet. And if you have a good presence in New York, not only that your wine is sold here, but that you sell a good amount of it, and that the New Yorkers know, like or love, and recognize your name. And not only the people who love it, but the people selling it, which includes; owners and sales people at wine shops, restaurant owners, Wine Directors (for those restaurants who have them), waiters, bartenders, and waitresses, as well as Wine Distributors, which include the owners, managers, and sales force of these companies. Yes, if you make wine anywhere in the World, New York City is the place you want to be, and as far as these people who like, buy, and love your wine, I was one of those, and in a very big way. Not all wine, but Italian Wine in particular. You see, I became, as they say,
"A Big Dog of Italian Wine." 

It all started around 1995 when, I had seen a small article in the Sunday New York Times about Venice, and the wine-bars of this enchanting city. The wine bars in Venice are called Bacaro, meaning the House of Bacchus, and they have been around for more than 600 years now. These Venetian Bacari sprung up first in and around the famed Rialto Market a long time ago. They were a place where the vendors of the market would go to rest and get into the shade, and because of this,  and as a result of this little ritual, a glass of wine in Venice became known in the Venetian dialect as an Ombra. Ombra is Latin for shade, thus a glass of wine, known as an Ombra in Venice, translate into "shade." The Venetian food merchants and other Venetian's of course could go and have a glass of wine or two and perhaps a little something to eat. There are all sizes and shapes of Venetian Bacari, some quite small, other a bit larger, and others still larger yet. They all have a good assortment of local wines and wines from all over Italy, and they served Cichetti. Cichetti are small tidbits of food, of which there is usually a large variety for you to choose from, much like Tapas Bars in Spain, although the Venetian wine bars have been around much longer. So you belly up to the bar, see what kind of wine they have, make a choice, order your glass of wine, perhaps a glass of Valpolicella or local Cab Franc, and you start drinking. You look of the offerings of Cichetti, pick a few that you like, the barman makes you a plate and sit back (usually you stand) sip your wine, and enjoy your Cichetti.

So to, make a long story a bit shorter, I read the article, it sparked my interest, I said, "I'm going to open one of these things," and I bought a plane ticket to Venice, hopped on the plane and flew over there. This was a trip of discovery, to explore these Venetian Bacari, go to as many as I could in 8 days times, see how they operated, watch to the owners, and local patrons, feel the places, and find out as much as I possibly could so I could go back home to New York and open one myself. This was my dream, and I did make it come to fruition. 

Yes, I went to Venice and explored the Wine Bars of Venice. I learned a lot, as I set out to do. At that time, I had been in the restaurant business for 23 years, starting as a busboy (4 years), I went to Culinary School, I started cooking, I cooked for 10 years, and my first 7 years working in kitchens, I also worked 3 nights a week waiting on tables and tending bar. Once I took a job as a chef, I had to leave the part-time waiter job, and of course just work at the one restaurant as the Head Chef. 

So with all my experience in the business, my sense of style, love of food and wine, and Italy, I began to form my plan. The plan of my Venetian Wine Bar (Bacaro) and what it would be like. I made a business plan, I found a partner, he loved the idea, and we decided to do it. So we set out to build and open our place, Bar Cichetti which would turn out to be the 1st ever Venetian Wine Bar in America. At Bar Cichetti, I was the Chef, Wine Director, and managing partner. 

Now as for the wine part. The Italian Wine part. Now, as I've already explained, New York is the number 1 wine market in the World. The Italian love New York, they love coming over here a few times a year, promoting and selling their wine, and they do this by bringing there wines around to as many Italian and other restaurants to taste and hopefully buy their wine. While in New York, the proprietors of various Italian Wine Estates usually host a luncheon and or dinner at Italian Restaurants in New York. These luncheons / dinners are usually for about 16 people or less, and only the top Italian Wine People of New York are lucky enough to be invited to these events. I was one of those lucky people, as I became one of the 3 Top Italian Wine Professionals in New York. I had the good fortune to be invented to numerous Italian Wine Dinners, luncheons, tastings, and symposiums over the year. A lot of very special occasions they were. 

So my partner Tom T and I went about the building of our restaurant wine bar. First we had to find a space, and that was a whole big aspect in itself. After a few months trying as we worked on the plans of the wine bar, we finally settled on a spot on Houston Street, in New York's Greenwich Village. We signed a lease and soon began construction. There was already a restaurant in there before, so the the biggest and hardest part of the physical construction of a restaurant was already in place, that being the vent for a commercial kitchen and the kitchen itself, which included sinks, stoves, and refrigeration. We had to make just a couple minor adjustments to the kitchen and we were all set there.

Now for the design of the place. My partner Tom pretty much designed the whole place, but of course I helped and had some input as well. We agreed on wainscoting, Venetian Glass Chandeliers, mirrors, banquets, sconces, and other things, and when all was said and done, the place looked quite nice.

Anyway, enough of all that. We opened and when we did, all the the Italians, meaning the owners of Italian Wine Estates, their daughters (usually doing PR and Sales for the family) and Italians who lived in New York and worked in one of the various Italian Wine Importers and distributors went totally nuts for what we were doing at Bar Cichett, the first ever Venetian wine Bar / restaurant in The United States. Quite an accomplishment, and one I'm very proud of. Anyway, as I said all the Italian went nuts for what we were doing, and what I created along with Tom "T" ...  So, right away all the Italians wanted to meet me, and so whenever any Italians came to town, the managers of the companies that were importing and distributing there wine,  they all wanted to come and see me at Bar Cichetti, and so they did. And I'd be invited to all the tastings, luncheons, and special wine dinners held by whichever Italians were in town that week. People like' Jacapo Bionde Santi, Giovanni and Gianpaullo Venica, Caveliere Luigi Cappellini, Nadia Zenato, Marilsa Allegrini, Giovanni Folnari, Piero Antinori, and many more. Being in the restaurant and Italian Wine years before I opened Bar Cichetti I already knew some prominent Italians who owned vineyards and made wine, but once I opened Bar Cichetti, I was the Chef and wine buyers, and a partner in Bar Cichetti, as they say, "The Floodgates Opened," I got to know everyone and anyone who made wine in Italy as well as the top Italian Wine sales professionals who sold Italians Wine in New York. Many of these people have become very good friends. And so I became one of the top Italian Wine Guys in New York, and I loved it. I loved having all these Italians come to my place and taste me personally on their wines, tell me all about the wines, chit chat and break bread together. As time went on I became better versed and quite knowledgeable on the wines of Italy, and all the Italians quite like that I was so well versed on their wines.

Well we had a good little run with Bar Cichetti, but sadly we dissolved the partnership. I then went on to work as a Manger / Maitre'd at the famed Celebrity Hot Spot, da Silvano for a 3 year stint. It was quite exilerating as Da Silvan was the # 1 Hot Spot of the Celebrity Crowd in New York, and it was quite exciting taking care of people like; David Bowie, Gwyneth Palthrow, Graydon Cater, Calvin Klein, Uma Thurman, Keith Richards, and Paul McCartney to name but a few of the many celebrities who dined at Da Silvano almost every night of the wee, week after week. Silvano Marchetto was a SOn of a Bitch to work for (he has that reputation), but although he was a bit difficult, I did learn quite a bit from the man and working at Da Silvano, and I loved working there, and cherish my times at that restaurant.

I left Da Silvano to take a job as the Wine Director at Barbetta to run the wine program in a famous old Italian rstaurant that just so happened to have the greatest Italian Wine Cellar of any restaurant in America, it's quite something. I went up and interviewed with the owner Laura Magiolio. We sat and chatted for more than 2 hours, at which point Ms. Magiolio offered me the job. I loved working at Da Silvano, but the one thing I missed tremendously was being the Wine Director and all that went with it. Having people bring me Italian WIne to taste every other day, going to the tasting, and being invented  all the wonderful Italian Wine Dinners and various events. I missed being a Big Dog of Italian Wine, and now I was, once again, and I loved it.

We had an increidable wine cellar at Barbetta. It was in fact one of the greatest Italian Wine Cellars in the country, and as far as Barolo's go, one of the best Barolo Cellars in the World, including Piedmont where Barolo and Barbaresco's come from. We had verticals of all the famed Barolo Crus of Piedmont. A cru is a wine that's made with fruit from sit specific vineyards. In Barolo they have many famous hills and plots where vines are planted, and the fruit harvested from them is vinified into famous cru Barolo, like' Brunate, Villero, Cirequio, Canubi, Lazzarito, Vigna Rionda, Monprivato, Rocche dell Anuzziata, and a few other famed vineyards (hills). Yes, hills? All of these great Barolo Crus come from the best sights of named vineyards that are always southern facing hills, which are the best plots to grow Nebbiolo Grapes to optimum perfection.

At Barbetta, we had Barolo from all the famous crus and all the famous producers (wine estates) of Barolo. And we had multi year verticals of these crus. A vertical is when you have 3 or more different vintages of top end quality wine, such as, Barolo, Brunello, Barbaresco, Amarone, Taurasi, varios Super Tuscans, and other high-quality Italian Wines, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and other respected wines of the world. We specialized in Italian Wine, but we also had verticals of famous California wines like, Opus 1 , Insignia, Grigich Hills Cabernet and other famous California wines. We also had  a great selection of vintage Champagne.

It was a wonderful job, being the Wine Director of Barbetta with all the great wines in the cellar, I was able to get at least a little taste of many famous older vintage: Barolo's, Barbaresco, Amarone, Champagne, and other wines. Being able to do so, broadens your understanding, knowledge, experience, personal education wine. I was quite lucky to be in the position, but I earned it through years of study and hard work. Working for myself, employers, and work doing my own personal studies of the wine, through many tasting, reading, traveling to vineyards all over Italy, and by whatever other means available to me.

Fast forward. It's the year 2020, one of the worst years in American History. A horrible year fro us, and practically everyone around the World. The whole of the United States of America and practically every country around the World has been struck by a Pandemic caused by the Covid19 Virus that began in China, and rapidly spread around the World as a result of the Chinese Government keeping it a secret and not informing the rest of the World about the virus, that started in a wet market in Wuhan China. President Trump calls it the Chinese Virus.

Anyway this horrible virus spreads fast among the population, some people become very sick from it and many die. Many people in Italy died from Covid19. Italy was one of the first countries after China hardest hit by the Corona Virus. The New York, my home town was hard hit by it, but after about 3 months we got it under control. Sadly almost 24,000 people died in New York City alone from the Corona Virus. Very sad. New York, America and the World has been crippled by this horrible virus. As a result of the Pandemic, the economy of the city, New York State,a and America, and the World has been crippled. Almost instantly 12 million people in America became unemployed.  We have to wear mask, social distance, restaurant and many businesses have been closed and shut down due to the virus.

So we have to social distance, restaurants have been closed, business is way down, people are losing money and many businesses have gone bankrupt because of the pandemic. The World has changed drastically, what you can and can not do, due to the virus. As a result, something that I have done for more than 20 years and enjoyed immensely, all the big portfolio Italian Wine Tastings helf by all the big players in Italian Wine in New York, and are held every year in September, obviously this year they have all been cancelled. So many thing have been cancell. So many things have changed. Some things will disappeared and likely never come back again, or if they do, not for 2 to 3 years or so. It's all so sad.

To be continued ...

With Leonardo Locassio and Marilisa Allegrini


With the Great Vittorio Fiore

One of ITALY'S Greatest Winemakers

With My Good Friend 



A man I like to call the "MICKEY MANTLE of ITALIAN WINE"

Jose Rallo

Of Donnafugata Wines

Marsala, Sicily


Roberto and Vittorio Fiore

with a bottle of their Il CARBONAIONE




Luigi makes my Favorite CHIANTI of All



With some of my BEST FRIENDS WINES


"MILLE Una NOTTE" from Antonio Rallo

NARBI BRUNELLO from Serena Columbini




"I Love this Guy" !

Hanging with my pal ITALO STUPINO

"He makes the Worlds Best Barbaresco"

Much Better than GAJA !

Me and The Count

One of my Favorite CHIANTI Wines



From my friends Nicola and Sebastiano Capponi


Marchese Piero Antinori with Writer Daniel Bellino-Zwicke in NEW YORK

Marchese Piero Antinor 

with New York Writer Daniel Bellino-Zwicke

Ferdinando Frescobaldi and Daniel Bellino Zwicke in NEW YORK


meets  with Friend DANIEL BELLINO ZWICKE 


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Count Francesco Muroni Cinzano (R) 
Propietor of Col D'ORCIA


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Gianpaoulo Motta 

& Author Daniel Bellino Zwicke

at Bottega del Vino, Verona Italy

During VINITALY 2003

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Antonio Rallo of Donnafugata
with Author Daniel Bellino-Zwicke



Hanging with Sebastiano Rosa



"We're drinking some Cheval Blanc"


Winemaker of Sassicaia & Punica Wines SEBASTIANO ROSA
with Author Daniel Bellino Zwicke and Roberta Morrel of Morrel WInes
Get Toegther for a lillte Wine and Chat at Kobrand Italian Portfolio Tasting
at The Bowery Hotel, New York, New York


Alberto Chiarlo with Author Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
Alberto Chiarlo the proprietor of Michele Chiarlo  Wines 
of Piedmonte got together for a tasting of Alberto's latest vingtages
of wine, including Barbera Le Orme, Barolo Tortoniano 2010,
Michele Chairlo Barbaresco 2011, Barolo Cerequio 2010,
and Barolo Canubi Michele Chairlo 2007 & 2001 Vintgaes ..
Daniel said the whole line-up of wines was absolutely Amazing! 
everything was in perfect balance, full of flavor and a joy to drink.


Emelia Nardi with Daniel Bellino-Zwicke

Tasting some Great Brunello 
and Rosso di Montalcino

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The 1999 Il PARETO From Nozzole Was ROCKING !!!
I normally don't go crazy for non-native Italian Varietals when drinking Italian Wine. That said, I absolutely loved the 1999 Vintage of Tenuta Nozzole's "Il PARETO" a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon based wine that was amazing. It was full of flavor,perfecting and a absolute Joy to Drink. I loved It!

The WINES From MASI Where Also AMAZING !!!

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Masi Agricola

I loved all of the Amarone 's that Masi was showing at the Italian Portfolio Tasting ..
The were showing Amarone Mazano 2007 which was really nic and heavy on the prune flavors.
The 2007 Amarone Campolong was awesome as was the Amarone Costera 2009 ..
My favorite Amarone of the day was Seregho Aligheri 2008 which is one of the few wines in the world aged in large Cherry Wood Cask .. The wine was AMAZING !!!

Giovanni Manetti


Greve, Italy

In The Cellars of FATTORIA BARBI




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When Italian-Americans Cook

by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke