Sunday, September 18, 2011

a word about the tomato

Tomato season is winding down very quickly, and I feel like I have tomatoes on the brain. I've recently noticed that I seem to have a perpetual debate among people that know a thing or 2 about wine, regarding wine and tomatoes. A majority of Americans seem to think of tomatoes as an Italian staple, and therefore automatically look to Italian wines for pairings. This is a hazardous tact, and one that needs needs a bit of discussion.
Italians have only had tomatoes since the 17th century (possibly 16th), the fruit is actually indigenous to South America, and first introduced into Spanish Cuisine about 100 years before Italian. Until 1800, tomato sauce was known as alla spagnuola, "in the Spanish style." Today, India eats 5x as many tomatoes as Italy, which is actually 5th in worldwide consumption. Why do we think of Tomatoes as Italian? Probably because of the "Sunday Gravy", the immigrant version of a Neapolitan peasant dish. Naples was one of the first places in the world to perfect preserving tomatoes, making tomatoes affordable, available year round, and a major ingredient in peasant food throughout Northern Italy in the 19th and 20 centuries.
Unlike, say, Loire, where the best pairings for foods grown there, are from the neighboring vines, tomatoes cultural significance in Italy has more to do with food production and preservation science than natural integration.
So, let's hit the reset button for a second. Tomatoes, Culinarily speaking, end up in 2 forms-cooked and raw. Raw, it is often fresh off the vine with high acidity and sugar. Cooked, the acids turn a touch more bitter, and the sugars become richer and more caramelized. These both pose challenges for pairings. acid +acid is a minefield. wines that lead with acidity are automatically out. Wines that have acid, but are buoyed by minerality, rich (not overwhelming) fruit or a touch of sweetness may work well with fresh tomatoes, and further do well with the the oils, herbs and vinegars we use with the fresh tomatoes. For cooked tomatoes, specifically sauces, high acid reds are typically poor pairings. This can refer to the sour acids, but it also refers to tannins. Both behave similarly in the presence of the sugars and acids in tomato sauce, they become astringent and intolerable. The better tact is to look to low acid reds, of which there are a multitude of choices from Italy, ironically though, not really from the regions of Italy from where tomatoes sauces have become famous.
To bring this full circle, think about where fresh tomatoes have excelled in the last 300 years: Warm, Mediterranean climates. The wines that do well with tomatoes? Also from warm climates: Languedoc, Rhone, Southern Italy, Spain, California are all great places to start. What to avoid? Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Veneto. Total generalizations I know, Dolcetto is pretty decent, and some Barberas are ok too. This is just an exercise to demonstrate how we need to take a fresh look at how we think about some clichéd wine and food pairings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You're not selling wine

Sales people are notorious for feeling like they just don't have control of their sales and growth. Every single day, you are selling 2 things, and it's not as small minded as the wine in your bag or the wine on program: It's your book and you. Think about that. You are selling you as a person and as a rep, and your book, the quality of the wines your represent, the company behind them and your knowledge about them.
You are in the customer service industry. There are a thousand boring and few inspirational books out there talking about excellent customer service. You shouldn't have to read them to know that every opportunity you have to help your customer is an opportunity to raise the value of your stock as a salesperson. The most beloved salespeople are the ones that will go above and beyond to act as a resource to their accounts regardless of whether or not it will directly result in an order. This definitely includes finding out who carries a competitor's product. Want to own a wine list? Throwing deals, smack talking and bullying is cruel mistress. There's no loyalty in that tact. If you want to own a wine list, you need to be the greatest, most honest, dependable resource for your account. This demonstrates that you place their success ahead of yours (you should). Everything else is just petty.
Selling your book is a little more nebulous. It's not just sampling (although this is part of it). You really need to go back to the beginning of your relationship with your employer. Did you choose the book because of the quality of the company? Quality of the wines? Hopefully both. If you believe in both, you should be proud. 3/4 of the reps out there work either for a crappy company, a crappy book or both. Being a distributor is difficult. There are a million details that need to happen correctly for your accounts to receive their order correctly each week. Every distributor makes small mistakes once in a while, it's impossible not to. In order for your account to love you and your book, you need to defend your employers inevitable mistakes up to a point. You also need to do your best to help your employer succeed at programs and projects, even if you don't agree. This will help your employers to improve your book and work environment. Don't air your laundry to your accounts either. They don't want to hear about commission rates or goals. Discussing these details with accounts is petty, and lowers your stock. You can't truly be successful if your account doesn't think your employer is successful. If you don't like the way things are going, give feedback to your boss. If they don't improve, update your resume.
As a sale rep, you are all at once a Promoter, P.R., delivery driver and E.R. Doctor. doing all of these tasks well will help you to make the most of every opportunity. If you place a priority on a) helping your account be successful b) helping your employer be successful-you will be successful.