It’s hard to make wine come alive on the page (with a few notable exceptions; see Jay McInerney and Randall Grahm), but in “Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine,” all it takes is one midlife crisis by an Italian-American to get you hooked. Marco Pasanella manages to create a page-turning look at the life of a wine store owner in Lower Manhattan and teach you a thing or two about wine along the way.
In 2002, Pasanella, a designer, and his wife decided to buy a five-story building in Lower Manhattan and open a wine store called Pasanella and Son. Watching a wine novice work his way through the bureaucracy and politics that make up the wine retail world is nothing short of amusing.
Highs and lows of owning a business
Marco and his wife Becky, who live on the floors above the store, work tirelessly to make their venture a success. (Becky works for Martha Stewart Living, and the description of getting the store ready for Martha Stewart’s private event is not to be missed.) Marco’s descriptions are nail-biting and hilarious, starting with the shop’s fishermen neighbors, one of whom is named Carmine, no less. The highs and lows of owning a business include enduring visits from New York state special agents who want to investigate alleged alcohol license violations, surviving a winemaker dinner that featured an exploding barbecue, managing employees of varying quality, and delivering wine in Manhattan in a 15-year-old Volvo station wagon.
You’re rooting for them the whole way. (And they do succeed; the shop is still going strong.) What keeps the book fresh is the organization. Each chapter starts with an element of winemaking (Prune, Harvest, Ferment, Crush) that sets the stage for another adventure at the store.
This isn’t a “wine book” per se; rather, little bits of information are sprinkled throughout the book (the sections on wine ratings and biodynamic wines are particularly informative). And the appendix is a compact guide to wine, including “Five Tips on Tasting Wine,” “Ten Ways to Taste Without Feeling Like a Snob” and a very helpful section on toasts. This is definitely a beach read for the wine lover or foodie in your life. My one quibble: There’s no index, so you have to search around to find your favorite passages or topics.
Having spent his holidays and summers in Lucca, Italy, Pasanella includes a handful of authentic Italian recipes. Here’s one of my favorites, a fish pasta dish from the renowned Italian chef Lorenzo Viani. Pasanella advises to “use the freshest fish.”
Bavette Sul Pesce Da Lorenzo (Lorenzos Fish Linguini)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 hot pepper
6½ ounces chopped mixed squid, cuttlefish and crayfish, cleaned
⅓ cup dry white wine
10 ounces bavette pasta (linguini may be substituted, although it lacks bavette’s sauce-cupping convex curves)
2 cups warm water
parsley (to garnish)
1. Sauté the oil, garlic and pepper in a medium-hot large cast iron pan. Add the seafood.
2. Bathe everything in the white wine and reduce the heat to low.
3. Cook for a few minutes until the seafood has lots its translucency.
4. Add the bavette to the mixture, adding the warm water and constantly stirring with a wooden spoon until the bavette is al dente (8 to 10 minutes). Salt to taste.
Top photo composite:
“Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine” book cover. Credit: Henrik Bostrom
Author Marco Pasanella. Credit: Lucas Allen