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About this Episode

Host Robert Tas is joined by special guest Anthony Giglio, wine and spirits author of 11 books, and wine reporter for CBS Radio. Anthony has been a guest on NBC’s Today Show, Food Network, CNBC, and FOX Business News and has been invited to speak at food and wine festivals and International events. He is currently the wine director for the American Express Centurion Global Lounge Networks and in this episode, he talks about his role as wine director, how they manage the wines across all 40+ lounges globally, and, of course, he identifies a few stellar choices in wine while waiting in the airport. 

Wines reviewed include:

  • Wine-Uvio-Falanghina-Conlebucce-Florami
  • Les Sarrins Cotes de Provence Rosé
  • Wairau River Marlborough Pinot Noir
Transcript: The American Express Centurion Global Lounge Network

American Express Centurion Global Lounge Network

RT: Hello and welcome to court rules, a podcast where we usually review a wine list from your favorite restaurants. But today we have something a little different. I'm your host, Robert Tas. And I'm so excited to welcome our special guest. Anthony Giglio, wine director of the American Express Centurion global lounge network. How cool is that? Anthony? Welcome to our special cork rules podcast.

AG: Thank you, Robert. Thrilled to be here man. And thank you for swallowing that mouthful of a title of Amex century ago legend plus my impossible to pronounce last name, Julio, which is often bastardized to gigolo

RT: Right on brother. Hey, before we jump in, let's talk cork rules. We created cork rules to demystify wine lists, because we know from experience that sometimes wine lists can be intimidating and even a little daunting. Our aim is to help prepare people to navigate those lists, find hidden gems, value wines, or that special bottle or glass to enhance their experience and take it up a notch. So today, I'm super excited to dig into the wine program offered at the American Express Centurion global lounge network. But before we start, let me introduce Anthony a little because he's a humble guy. He is one of the most knowledgeable experts who brings together the combination of wine, food and travel together. Anthony is a published author of 11 books, and as often featured public speaker. So, Anthony, let's start by how did you become the wine director at American Express Centurion global lounge network? And how long have you been working with them?

AG: So, it's, there's a lot to unpack here. But a long time ago, American Express used to own food, Wine Magazine, and travel, leisure and departures and all those magazines, some of which no longer exist. And when I'm a contributing editor to food and wine for around 25 years, and that put me in top of mind when Amex was dreaming this up around 2010. So we didn't actually open it to 2012, the first lounge in Las Vegas, so it's been 10 years in real in real time.

RT: That's fabulous. So, tell. Tell us a little bit about the role. Its scope, the scale, there's like 40 Plus lounges, right?

AG: Now. Not quite that many yet. Now, I wish there were 40. Internationally. They might it would, it might even be more than that. Yeah, that's right. But, but my reach extends only to a few of the internationals because a lot of them, that's an old agreement with AmEx, where they were at least out is like franchises. So they're sort of like partner lounges. But for my reach, it's all Yeah, of course, it's all in North America. And then we have Heathrow and second International, the first one is in, in Hong Kong. But the truth is this. Unfortunately, I don't even get to go visit those lounges. Because unless I'm there for business, it's even hard to get into any of the airport lounges without a ticket, right? I mean, they're TSA. So even here in the US, if I have to go have some kind of a special promotion, or some kind of a special meeting, I have to get a whole bunch of paperwork in order and have be escorted through security, because I really am a security risk of them not flying.

RT: Well. We're gonna cry about that in another episode. But tell us a little bit about the role and the scope of it and how you go about it?

AG: Sure. So, putting it into the context of when we started, right. It was a much, much narrower field and a very dark base for a lot of the other lounges because we looked at like, what can we do better? What if we branded these lounges, what you know, and I'm not gonna say I had anything to do with the original idea, but they said, What would you bring to the table and I said, it drives me crazy. When I go into my airport lounge with my preferred airline, and they have two crappy wines that are offered on the house. And then I have to spend, and I've already spent, you know, $50 to get in, and I felt like, this is just ridiculous. Like, why like, why isn't this like, it should all be inclusive, there should be no feeling like I have to, you know, upgrade, I should be everything should be, because we're special partners already or special clients already have the airlines. So, AmEx, they were completely on board that I mean, like, they're not gonna lie. We actually had, you know, of course, we had a dream really big. And we were like, and we're gonna pour dog her noon by the glass, and, you know, and have all this crazy stuff, you know, reality sets in with budgets, but where I think they did a really nice job was they wanted to anchor it to local chefs in every single market. And then I would, you know, because of my relationship with them, they said, you know, you'd be the global director and Jim Meehan, who I actually wrote some cocktail books with back in the early 2000s. So Jim and I have worked together on cocktail books. They said, Jim would be the cocktail, you know, beverage manager. So he's he handles cocktails and beer. So, all of our stuff is at the same bars. But when people call me and say, have a great beer for your vodka, or whatever I say, talk to Jim. He's got his own separate program. So I'm just on wine. And we wanted to have it uniform across all the lounges with at least eight to a dozen steady wines. And then where appropriate, we would, we would add in regional ones like so I'm going to talk I'll tell you about that. We talked about JFK and LaGuardia.

RT: Great, great. You mentioned working with local chefs and how do you collaborate with them? How do you How does that work?

AG: You know, I'm wistful for the old days. But like when we were very small and just getting the first few off the ground like it was, it was Las Vegas first and then San Francisco, which I still look at as sort of like my baby because I had the most influence over it. And the last of the big budgets to really go crazy because I have a beautiful wine wall. They're a self-serve station of 18 wines and plus the regular bar where you go in, order the all the by-the-glass program, which is separate bottles. So I have a huge wine program there, which was a, you know, a statement that you're landing in wine country. And here's what we got. And it was, you know, back then there was a partnership with Napa Valley vintners, and then Sonoma Valley growers and all that kind of stuff. So, they help to all the wine wall for me, like, there's actually, glass partitions like that act as real boundaries. It's all just glass bottles up all over the place to really beautiful I try. So the the goal was to get it really uniform, but working with the chefs and we used to sit down and actually taste through tons of different issues and say, like, like, Scott Kona was the original chef in Vegas. And we would have these amazing tastes instead of studio here in New York, and then then start playing with the wines. And you know, as the problem got bigger and bigger, bigger, we had to keep cutting back, like mainstreaming like, to make everything a little more lean and functional. And there's just too much to do if we were trying to do that with every single chef, every time we changed the wine list with Cedric in New York, it's an easy connection because I can go see him any time over Perry Street. And you know, he'll tell me what he's adding to the lounge now. And, you know, and we'll tweak things together like that. So, there is absolutely open dialogue. I remember when I worked with Dean fearing in the Dallas lounge, he told me that, you know, his Texas food was going to be some somewhat spicier than I'm used to in the other lounges. And I said, Great, so I could then dial in something off-dry because he was here's a pro tip wide, very one-on-one. When you're dealing with heat, you must drink sweet. So we were trying to find some great like Moscato is and things like that, that were just slightly dry or even a beautiful off-dry Riesling. And you know and try and really get the staff pumped to talk about it, because that's that stuff is kind of hand-sell, right? Like, you know, Americans are terrified of a recycling bottle because they think it's going to be blue non-sweet. And it's like that's, that's the kind of input I'm looking for from the chefs like, what kind of food are you pouring? Like, what kind of barrier and do I need to think about anything to you know, to dial in in case it doesn't work. But that was one of the few exceptions where he was showing me some really, really great by see like Tex Maxi things that he was putting together with jalapenos and corn and sauces and things like that. It was really, really great food.

RT: Sounds awesome. So maybe give us a little overview of the producers how you went about structuring give us a high-level view of the of the wine program to make it work.

AG: And this is the big puzzle that I explained to everybody even like, in my one of my other hats is that you know, I host a ton of virtual tastings right? Did during the pandemic, it was a whole new business and getting the same bottles into everyone's homes in various states is never easy, and people just don't understand. It's like, dude, having to ask you for wine recommendations, right? And you're like, I'm not going to tell you because I'm gonna you're in Wyoming and I'm in New York, you know, and like, I'm gonna say, Here's my favorite Pinot Noir, and then you're gonna text me it's 10 minutes and drive me crazy with oh, they don't have it. Oh, they don't have. And they don't have that. And then I'll have that. And then I'll have that. So it's like, we're 55 republics with very, very different rules on what can come across state borders, and who's paying the piper to get into the state and all that crazy cronyism, that's all leftover from our bootlegging past, that that dictates how it's all done all to say, to link all these lounges in all these different states, we had to find work with partners who have national reach. So, we've been, we just actually renewed with Terlato wines international for another four years time. So, this, they've actually there are a second one, we were actually with folio in the beginning for the first round. And then we overthrow lotto. And it's been a great partnership because they're really, really proactive. And they because of their buying power and their national reach, if we email in the morning and say, Hey, Vegas is running out and blah, blah, blah, they'll truck it in from LA, like, they'll get it there within 24 hours or something, they'll have everything man, it's crazy how good they are at reacting to that kind of stuff. So that said, we're using their portfolio. And so almost all lounges have like a similar wine list. Or there's a change here that because of something that might not be available, like for instance, like one of the more challenging list is Philadelphia because it's a control state. So, there are 17 states in the country where the state authority the State Liquor Authority owns all the wine stores meaning so they control the inventory, and which means there's actually no better wine shop in any town for cheaper prices. It's, all the same, the state controls everything so that evens out the playing field a lot but it also limits you know what you can get but you're gonna find the same thing in every store. So, for the lounge in Philly, we you know, we have to often sub in certain things that might not be available in it has to be available in the state for us to be able to serve it in the lounge, but where do you want to begin I'm going to tell you what We're doing a JFK.

RT: Let's focus there. Maybe it's just we started off with the New York restaurants. What's the wine list there like?

AG: JFK, we just started out and relaunched all the new lists. We refreshed every single list. And JFK was one of the first. So, it was a whole like q2 initiative. But by mid-summer, we'd have all the lists changed out because we were closed during the pandemic. So, some of them went dormant and then had leftover inventory. So that this whole Tetris game of filling in what needs to be filled in, get rid of what we're trying to phase out, but like selling it, or like not selling it off, pouring it off, and then replacing and getting everybody up to speed and then getting all the waiters trained, having the staff understand how to talk about the wines and the cocktails. And that's, for instance, like there were always at least two sparklings. So, we have Nino Franco Rustico which is from I think one of the best producers of really great felt the Bell who did a superior Prosecco. And you know, Franco is a great ambassador, he actually comes to the US quite often, and he'll volunteer to go to the lounge for a day and pour wine. What's interesting about those things is that it's all a happenstance event, meaning no one can plan to go see him, right, unless you're flying that day, and you have 10 minutes to pop in the lounge, right? Like, but he's just, if people get to the bar, like, oh, the presenter is like, Let me pour it for you. I made it. It's like, yay.

And then we have a Riondo Prosecco Rose, which you wanted to show something completely different. And the way I wrote the wine lists, it's grape first, so everybody knows grape because, you know, again, speaking to an American audience, Americans love to know the grapes and need to know the grapes because that's how we learn about wine. So, to say Prosecco doesn't mean anything to anybody. Not the glare is going to help them but the Rionda is interesting because it's actually a merlot and garganega blend so a bit of a mind blow people say like, Oh, I didn't realize you could make a rose with red wine like it opens up a whole conversation to all roses actually red wine in disguise, right. So, there's a comment, there's that talking point. And then whites we have, we have some great locals interweaved in here. So there's, of course, Terlato puts a Pinot Grigio in there under its own label part of their deal, a beautiful Wine-Uvio-Falanghina-Conlebucce-Florami, which I think it's a great thing to talk about people most people don't know about Valentina but telling it's from you know, from around Mount Vesuvius, great food area for pizza and mozzarella, and tomatoes, and all that kind of thing felt like it is a beautiful white, really crisp, and literally, it's, it's, it's sort of like for the Sauvignon Blanc lover, but with less acid, so it's gonna be a little more smooth and richer, something maybe we call it maybe a lovechild between chardonnay somebody a blocker for really dumbing it down, but like, there's going to have one more body, but not quite the acidity of a classic sauvignon blanc. And then we do have a sauvignon blanc from Hanna, Russian River and a chardonnay from the Federalists, so that's going to be the classic preemie style. And from New York state of beautiful dry Riesling listed as such dry Riesling from Empire Estate, which is Thomas Pasteuzach, the former wine director at the Nomad Hotel, started a label a few years back and sent me samples and I loved it. I love the story of it. And he's made, he's from the Finger Lakes. And so, he's got friends and family up there with property and grapes. And he and a winemaker up there, actually make it together. So it's a really beautiful, a beautiful wine. And it's a gorgeous bone-dry riesling, which is again a talking point to say to people Yes, it is bone dry. It needs to be although, here's the joke among sommeliers, which I'm sure maybe one of your other guests may have said it to you, but like, when people say recently, really, I'm like, well, how do you spell in my world? How do we spell sommelier ri s li NG? Because it's the most versatile it is the most versatile grape that can be paired in every style frog, it can be prepared at every style from tooth-achingly bone dry to thicken the sweet and all in between is where the delicious asides like and, and people are shocked when they like the slightly off-dry because it's not overly sweet. It's just gonna just taste a ton more fruity or and they're great aperitivo wines and great with heat when we're having, you know, spicy takeout on Monday nights. Exactly. That's when you pair the Empire Estate as well.

RT: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You want to do some reds?

AG: Well, we have one Rose and it's actually called the Les Sarrins Cote de Provence, a classic Rose of Grenache, but it's made by Bruno Paillard, the champagne producer. Nobody knows that. But yeah, so it's got some great pedigree behind it. And it's his pet project to do an affordable rose from ground zero of great roses and it's a beautiful grenache in pink form. Gorgeous wine. Really gorgeous one. And then the Reds are a Wairau River Marlborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand

 and classic Cecchi Chianti Classico Storia di Famiglia, 2019. So, 100% Sangiovese, A merlot from Cusumano in Sicily, which people don’t expect Sicily to have brand-named wines, but they've a beautiful merlot because somebody we actually we've shuffled through a bunch of their wines and we've actually word they're never dabbled in the past. And they have a gorgeous Syrha and now this is their umbrella, which is to try and change things up a little bit. Cabernet Sauvignon from the Federalists. They have big juicy super ripe style from Lodi, California. And then my local up there is a Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, Red Newt cellars, which is really, really beautiful I didn't I don't know about your experience with you know, like watching the trends on the wine list and such. But cab franc is trending. Like I'm seeing it more and more and more. I attended a panel eight years ago and it was in New York. And they brought in this hilarious why historian slash and photographer who did a whole slideshow on the historic royal families of grapes of vines. And so back to the Middle Ages, and like that there are three main families of vines that are still in play today from the Middle Ages, the players that broke through all these centuries later, and he gets the Cabernet Franc, and he's like, now, let's talk about a category. I'm going to make up his accent. Like, let's look at the Randy fox of the vineyard. Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc fathered a lot of other grapes, and its most famous offspring is Do you know this? Yeah. Cabernet Sauvignon. Wow. So, here's Jeopardy clue. Cabernet, Sauvignons parents gave one of their names to Cabernet Sauvignon. Who was the mother? So, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet from its father, but who was the mother? What's the second word of Cabernet Sauvignon? Sauvignon? Sauvignon Blanc, right?

RT: Amazing, amazing. Anything that you would point out as a must-try or something if I'm going on a special trip, and I'm going to pop into the lounge and have a glass what would be the must-try from your point of view. So many great choices there.

AG: The good news is, is you don't have to just have one glass, you can have as many as you want, we will not stop you. What's you’re falling over our model back then is our model today. Everything is complimentary. When you come in, you can certainly go through the list and figure out, I might like that better than this or better than that. But you're also welcome to taste your way up the ladder. So you could ask for a taste of everything if you wanted, the bartender would oblige you. But for me, you know, celebratory, I want something sparkling to kick things off, right? But I like that you're not stuck with a single bottle when you're with you know, a friend or a fellow traveler who doesn't drink or you like why they like red, I like sparkling you like cab, whatever. You could try whatever you want. And with the exception of San Francisco, where if you go to San Francisco lounge man, you can really have that they give you a barcode, when you walk in the US at the self serves just as a way to like limit, not let up go back for as many markers as you want. But they pour it out in like little out sports. And you could do like as many hits as you want to fill up the glass. But it's just people just don't like empty those bottles to their glasses. Right? That's what you'll find is there there's over two dozen selections in San Francisco. It's so good.

RT: That's awesome, man. Anthony, thank you so much for joining us today on cork rules and giving us your review of the American Express Centurion global lounge network wine program. Amazing stuff. You've done a fantastic job there. I'm so excited to go to check it out myself on my next trip to our audience. Thank you all for joining us here on cork rules. If you would like us to review one of your favorite restaurants. Please send us an email to info at court rules or visit our website where we have a request form available. We're looking forward to being with you on another court rules episode soon. In the meantime, please check out our website for all our available episodes of your favorite restaurant wine lists. And finally, drink what you love. And please make sure you travel responsibly. And thank you for joining us. We'll see you on another episode soon.



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