Serious Reads: Uncorked, by Marco Pasanella

Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Every slightly entrepreneurial boozer has at some point dreamed of opening her own wine shop. It's a pretty picture: spending your days surrounded by the best bottles, being your own boss, tastings during work hours, and identifying the best vintages for friends and family. But the reality of starting a wine shop—or any business—is tough, back-breaking, bank-breaking, sleep-denying work. Designer and author Marco Pasanella decided to test his limits with a radical career change when he opened his namesake liquor store, Pasanella and Son. He shares his experiences, lessons learned, and wine pairing tips in Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine.

Pasanella & Son vintners opened in 2005, in an old fish shop in the South Street Seaport in New York. The shop was on the first floor of a dilapidated building that Pasanella had bought with the hopes of transforming it into a chic downtown residential complex; however, those renovation plans seemed perpetually on hold. He had lived in the penthouse of the building for some time, and was familiar with the early-morning comings and goings of the port-side neighborhood. When his tenant suddenly disappeared one day, he decided to turn one of his longtime dreams into reality by opening a quaint, classy wine shop.

Pasanella was a wine lover, but far from an expert. His wife had the more discerning palate, and led them through the first few weeks of tasting and deciding what to stock in the store. As renovations began, the pair developed relationships with distributors and importers. Pasanella's former career as a designer helped him visualize a beautiful store, with his antique Ferrari as a centerpiece. On opening night, food and drink celebrities came from around New York to laud the new, hip wine store.

Uncorked does a wonderful job cataloguing the ups and downs of starting a business from scratch. In his first year, Pasanella feels the stress of working long hours, doubling his mortgage and then some, spending less time with his wife and new son, and bringing in new and sometimes volatile employees. It's clear that Marco and his wife Becky shouldered a huge amount of labor in the first two years of their shop. But through it all, Marco believed in his little store and its potential to become a hub for his community.

Pasanella also fills the book with plenty of wine buying and tasting tips. The reader learns along with him as he faces cheap Argentinian reds and unknown German whites, and as he builds his vocabulary of wine descriptors. If you're at all interested in the wine industry, his description of the ins and outs of distributing, importing, producing a new wine label, and the accompanying politics proves fascinating, and sometimes a bit disillusioning.

I would certainly use Uncorked as a reference for future wine purchasing. Full of recipes, pairing suggestions, and recommendations for all price points, this is no wine snob's book. And as a nice touch, the book ends with suggestions of various toasts for special occasions, and how to say "cheers" in twenty languages. These practical but sentimental tips embody Pasanella's attitude about wine: it should be appropriate for the situation, enjoyable to all, and shared with as many friends as possible.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.