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Two Wine Insider Secrets, Courtesy Of Neal Rosenthal And His Newest Venture

APR 30, 2018
Food & Drink
Cathy Huyghe , CONTRIBUTOR

How do you know which bottle to choose when you’re standing in front of a wall full of wine?

That’s a question I hear a lot. For the answer, I rely on a lesson learned long ago.

“Turn the bottle around.”

To the back label, that is, because that’s where we find some crucial information. Wine labels, on both the front and the back of the bottle, are highly valuable pieces of real estate. They’re small and exclusive, and there’s only so much room for words or images or percentages or graphics to convey the message that the producer, importer and/or distributor wants to convey.

But here’s one thing you’re looking for, that can in fact help you to choose one particular bottle when you’re standing in front of a wall full of wine: the name of the importer.

Let’s say you’re new to wine and eager to learn. You’ve tasted some bottles that you enjoyed and you’ve noticed a commonality, which is that most of the wines you like are imported by the same company. Soon enough you have a short list of importer logos to look for, when you turn the bottle around to the back label.

When I first started learning about wine, Burgundy-based Becky Wasserman & Co. was one of those logos that I came to know and identify. If I found it, I could be fairly confident about the purchase of the wine. It had Wasserman’s “stamp of approval,” communicated by her logo and the fact that she’d shuttled the chosen wine from Burgundy to the U.S. If it was good enough for Becky, it was good enough for me.

Another “stamp of approval” I’d look for — that I continue to look for — is Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant Ltd, started by Neal and his wife and business partner Kerry Madigan 40 years ago. For as well-respected as both importers are in the industry, knowing enough about them to follow their selections — and to base my own selections on theirs — still felt like an insider secret and a competitive advantage when it’s you against that wall full of wine.

The new Customs & Culture specialty tours is a collaboration between Neal Rosenthal and Livio and Kathrin Colapinto.

When I learned that Rosenthal is now branching out to wine tourism, in partnership with Livio and Kathryn Colapinto of Zest of Italy to lead exclusive tours in northern Italy and Burgundy, I had three reactions in quick succession. First, surprise that Rosenthal would “veer” even a little bit away from wine. Second, appreciation of his chutzpah. (The guy is in his 70s after all and well-versed in, to use his words, “the long-term viability of things.”) And third, admiration for how seamless and natural this “brand extension” seems to be.

That’s because Rosenthal is building the tourism business much the same way he built the wine business: quietly, organically, intimately, and with a decidedly “insider secret” twist. Here are five touchpoints that bridge wine and tourism, that are driving the success of the new endeavor.

  1. “The intimate thing works for us,” Rosenthal said, referring both to his history in wine and future in tourism. “Personal contact is still fundamental to being successful.”
  2. Mix up the experience. There is, believe it or not, only so many drives around vineyards and meals in 3-star restaurants that any one person can take. “It isn’t about the deep dive wine geek, doing 10 visits and tasting 100 wines a day,” Rosenthal said. Instead, he and his team are developing the tourism business based on what Rosenthal enjoyed most while developing his wine business, which includes cultural events, being outdoors, sports, and “generally being immersed in the culture of the place.
  3. “The common denominator is personal attention. For Rosenthal, the common denominator is always personal attention.
  4. Utilize the strengths of the core business for the brand extension. For the past four decades, Rosenthal has been adding producers to his portfolio the way that builders add bricks to a gateway. Today, given the success of so many of those producers, the gateway has largely closed to most visitors, except of course to Rosenthal himself. He opens the door, giving access to producers who would otherwise be inaccessible.
  5. An extension of access to winemakers and producers is access to where they eat and drink when they aren’t at home. These are the auberges and inns that aren’t in the guidebooks, Rosenthal said, “places I know well, where the people are friends just as much as the winemakers are.” These accommodations play, too, on the intimacy and “insider secret” of the experience.

Cathy Huyghe is the co-founder of Enolytics and the author of Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass. Find her online at cathyhuyghe.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.