Mentioning music to Luciano Armellino is like opening the throttle on a speed-boat. His voice lifts; words skim through memories, bouncing, buoyed by enthusiasm. “I’m a music fanatic,” he says. “The wine industry has taken me everywhere. Every time I’m on a business trip, I look for the nearest music venue or show.”
Armellino is from the United States but has lived near A Coruña in Galicia for the past several years. He has spent decades in sales, retail, distribution and import/export roles. Now, his company Pulse Selections provides export management services to small producers. “There are a lot of wineries that want to export, but don’t understand how navigate the system,” he says. “To hire an in-house expert is an astronomical investment. We partner with them and it costs at a lot less.”
I can imagine him charming and bemusing proprietors of tiny family wineries in equal measure. Armellino built a career in wine “because I like to drink it” and has been so stricken by the loss of live music that he’d “get in a big plastic ball to go to a show – like the Flaming Lips.” He talks fast and leaves a wake of laughter.
Would he like to talk about music and wine? Definitely.
How about his five most memorable gigs? Absolutely, just give me time to whittle ‘em down.
“Most of the gigs I’ve seen have been related to wine in some form or fashion,” Armellino remarks before plunging in.
Armellino was a year or two on from Bartle & James wine coolers in the high school parking lot, but shy of legal drinking age, when he drove to Providence, Rhode Island to see Ol’ Blue Eyes. “I said to my girlfriend ‘let’s go see Frank Sinatra’ and she said ‘Frank who?’
“It was an older crowed. We were the young couple in our late teens, all dressed up. I had a jacket on, she had a nice dress. We had some wine, some white Zinfandel.
“At the concert, we were just in awe. The most vivid memory is this lady, a row or two in front of us, who spent the entire concert screaming ‘sing My Way, sing My Way’.
“Can you imagine trying to enjoy Frank Sinatra with someone screaming, in the highest-pitched voice you can imagine?I still laugh about it.”
“That was one of my all-time great shows. I don’t think a lot of people can say they went to see Frank Sinatra. I would like to sit down, have a drink and chat with that guy. He was an icon.
“What wine pairs with Frank Sinatra? Something elegant. A white Garnacha, or rich Burgundy Chardonnay. Maybe an Oregon Pinot Noir, now I’m thinking about it. Easy, beautiful, elegant. With Frank, you gotta go a little mellower.”
After years of working for major US distributors, Armellino opened a wine shop in Hollywood, Florida in 2005. The following year, Sting performed nearby with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
“It was an outdoor venue so you could bring a lawn chair, sneak in some wine, stuff like that. My brother and I went. He’s older so he introduced me to a lot of music – The Doors, Led Zeppelin. But me, I’d rather see Sting than the Police. The guy can do no wrong on stage.
“We were sitting there in the pouring rain, with our golf umbrella and trash bags, drinking a bottle of Priorat. It was the most beautiful concert you could imagine. Spectacular. Talk about a musician who has only gotten better with age. The problem is he doesn’t drink. Sometimes it makes me feel like quitting, but nah, life is too short.”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Sometimes gigs were perks of Armellino’s dizzying web of wine connections. For a time, he worked for Southern Wine & Spirits, the States’ largest distributor, managing the sprawling Treasury Wine Estates portfolio. Between them, Southern and Treasury employ over 25,000 people. That kind of clout brings privileges. “I was a Tom Petty fan and was trying to get tickets to the show. They found out and said, do you want to come as our guest?
“It was at an arena in Miami and we were in a nice box, drinking Penfolds Shiraz – in that situation, you enjoy yourself a little bit more than you would otherwise.
“It was the first time I’d seen Tom Petty and I was blown away. He’s one of those talents that were taken too soon. I’m glad I saw him while I had the chance. He played two and a half hours of sheer music. Sitting there, drinking vino, listening to great music. What more can you ask out of life?
Some bands you see once and remember forever. Other bands, you fall in love and go back again and again. “U2 has always been my favorite. I’ve seen them at least 15 times. Never been invited to a show by a winery, though. I wish I had!
“The last time I went to see them was in Dublin. I brought wine to my hotel. Drinking some wine before the show gets you in the right mental atmosphere. Sometimes at the show the wine selection isn’t great, you have to adapt, go with whiskey or something.
“Have you ever seen a bad U2 show? It’s always full on, start to finish. There is no better band live. The perfect wine is bubbly. Get some Cava, get that sparkly attitude in you because you’re not going to sit down.
“Pound for pound, if you’re put a Cava against a Champagne, and you’re talking about price point, Cava is going to stand up, maybe do a Rocky. You can’t beat it. It’s what you need for a U2 show; you’re on your feet, always moving.”
“One of the venues I always wanted to go to was the Royal Albert Hall in London. I finally got to see Muse play there. It was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever been to, and it was due to wine. I was working for a Spanish bodega in Catalonia, and London was part of my travel.
“The Royal Albert Hall is small and when you get a chance to see one of your favorite bands there – incredible!
“Muse are amazing live. They do everything from soft ballads to hard rock, there’s nothing they can’t do. With Muse you’re getting into this harder element, a little deeper, a little darker; Garnacha from Spain would kill it. There’s a beautiful wine I represent, Lafou from the Terra Alta, that would be perfect. Like Muse, it’s a little bit richer.”