Thanks to our sommeliers (219 wines tasted!)

These nice gentlemen did a truly superb job serving our “jury” the 219 competing wines we tasted for the Radici Wines festival over the last three days.

They’re all locally based professional sommeliers except for one…

Paolo Patruno (above) is a doctor and a local winemaker. He is one of the many layperson sommeliers who has achieved his certification through the Apulia chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association.

His service was impeccable and he and I talked about a wide range of topics after each session — from my Eastern European origins to his residency at a hospital in Israel (where he treated wounded Israeli soldiers among his patients), from the historic immigration crisis in Albania (across the sea from Apulia) to the current African migration, from the recent changes in the Primitivo di Manduria DOC to Apulian traditions of hospitality.

It’s my favorite thing about what I do for a living: meeting new people and learning about their lives through and in wine.

Our jury included writers and wine experts from America, England, Poland, France, and Italy.

Jancis (center) was our presidentessa (she is super cool!) and it was thrilling to taste and share impressions with so many interesting wine personalities.

Per Bacco! The virtual sommelier

Last night found Mr. Bianchi on the floor of Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego, where I’ve been working as a sommelier on Friday and Saturday nights (we’ve been having a lot of fun with the wine program down there). During service, I received a text from a college friend, Beth, who was dining at Perbacco* in San Francisco with her boyfriend (they live in Santa Barbara): “What wine should we order?” I slipped into the back office, went online, and within moments was viewing the wine list. I’ve never dined at Perbacco, but I have to say I was impressed with the carta dei vini, both for its breadth and the reasonable prices. There were a number of excellent options. Massolino 1998 Barolo Rionda (left, photographed by Beth using her phone), I wrote back, “have the sommelier taste it for you and then have her/him decant it.” It was a romantic getaway for them and they wanted to drink something memorable. At 10:50, she texted me back: “Loved it!” 1998 is one of those “sleeper” vintages, often overshadowed by 97 (overrated but very good), 96 (one of the greatest in recent memory for Langa, still too tight for their palates), and 99 (also a classic Langa vintage). 98s can drink really well right now and so I knew with a little aeration Beth and her beau would dig it (and I wanted the onus of tasting the wine to lie on a sommelier since she is a wine lover, not a pro). Gauging from their list, I’m sure that the somms at Perbacco are top-flight folks. But wouldn’t it be cool if everyone could text a “virtual sommelier” from their table and get a personalized wine recommendation? Hhhhmmm…

*Perbacco! or per Bacco! is a euphemistic blasphemy, for Bacchus’ [sake]!, akin to our for goodness’ sake! It’s used to express surprise or wonderment. Vietti makes a Langhe Nebbiolo called Perbacco. It’s a declassified Barolo, winemaker Luca Currado told me. He uses it as a “loss leader,” a wine that he can sell at a lower price point to turn people on to his brand. The 2004 was insanely good and the 05 — on the list at Jaynes — is also showing really well right and represents one of the best values on any wine list.