Italy, Prima e Ultima*

I did not approach Italian wine slowly. I jumped in with both feet. You might say I was thrown in.

My first day on the job with an Italian importer, I was assigned to pour at a major New York trade tasting. Somehow, I got the table with the big 'scores', so I was knee-deep in people. And since I was brand-new to the portfolio, I spent all day peeking at my cheat sheets. 'Um, this is Aglianico and Piedirosso. That one is, uh..Coda di Volpe.' Not my finest hour.

But as soon as my head stopped spinning, I knew I was in love. So many grape varieties. So many different regions. Such an incredible range of tastes and textures: Lacrima Christi to Amarone, Vin Santo to Soave. It would take a lifetime to master them all, but I was going to have fun doing it!

I never looked back. To this day, I gravitate to Italian wines. And Italians. Which brings me to George.

George Schwartz is not Italian-born. But after 38 years, he has 'gone native'. He knows more about Italian wines, regions, and grapes than most in the biz. Add to this a great sense of humor, and an inimitable style, and you can see why we love to host George for tastings.

This Friday, George is bringing us some of his newest projects: wines of Sicily and Basilicata. We'll taste Cataratto and Nero d'Avola, Carricante and Perricone. We'll taste wines grown on the slopes of ancient volcanoes, wines that taste of their exact origin, wines that could not possibly come from somewhere else. Your tour guide: Mr Italy himself.

The wines and the company are both superb. If you fall in love with them, don't say I didn't warn you.

* First and Last