The Tasting Panel magazine

January/February 2015

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january/february 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  55 "Holidays and family—it's why Punzoné was born. I love to cook and enter- tain and have family over. Everyone loves coming to Frankie's house; it's the central hub where everyone feels comfortable," says Guerrera, who was born in Brooklyn and now lives in Staten Island, two New York City boroughs known for their down-home Italian hospitality. "I used to make a punch for gatherings. I used clean, fresh ingredients because that's everything." He blended vodka, his own homemade wine, and freshly squeezed blood oranges to make a sort of sangria. "It made an incredibly balanced cocktail that people loved 'cause it wasn't too strong like straight vodka, or sugary like sangria—just perfect." Friends and family began asking Guerrera to bottle it up and bring it to parties. So, when this former mortgage broker wound down his company after the financial crisis in '08, he knew the time was right for a change. "I decided to go all out. My wife had just graduated with a Master's degree in acupuncture and opened a practice in Staten Island, so the timing was perfect. I had the opportunity to dedicate my life to the brand." After years of hunting, Guerrera struck a relationship with an organic winery in Piedmont, Italy, which also had the capacity for distilling via a continuous, fractional five-column still used for grappa and also had access to clear, clean Alpine water. "In my research, I saw Italian organ- ics rising, [as well as] the availability of high-quality ingredients. I spent a lot of time traveling to wineries and distilleries there, and throughout my journey came the idea for the entire line to be organic," he says. Punzoné offers a trio of Italian- sourced and -made sippers. The well-made 80-proof Punzoné Vodka (SRP $39.99), produced from organic Italian wheat, adds a delightful softness to its texture. Punzoné Lemoncino (SRP $34.99) is a melding of organic Chardonnay from Abruzzi and Sicilian lemons, which, at 34 proof, is refreshing, offering just a hint of sweet- ness—nothing like the often-cloying limoncello versions on the market. And the idea that sparked it all, Punzoné Originale (SRP $34.99), a "punch" (which is the loose translation of the brand name) that blends the vodka with Calabrian- sourced organic blood oranges and is almost elegantly vermouth-like but with a bright punch that is unmistakable the result of the fresh citrus in the mix. Guerrera is truly seeing the fruits of his labor. The vodka has won the American Academy of Hospitality's 5 Diamond Award each year since its launch. But even more telling of its success is the demand: more than 10,000 cases produced and production set to double next year, with demand reaching far and beyond the tri-state area to Japan, China, South America and the South Pacific. When he dares to dream even bigger, Guerrera wonders perhaps if his progeny—three sons ages one, three and five—will bring the vodka into the future. But for now, he's just pleased as punch with what he's created. "I knew I would be up against multi-billion-dollar conglomerates with huge marketing budgets, but I also know what you put in what you get out and quality rises," says Guerrera. "If you're educated and know what organic is, you know it means better quality. To put that cherry on top of the Italian culture is incredible." The Guerrera Dossier A Q&A with the Man behind Punzoné Favorite thing about NYC: The opportunity to succeed in New York in like no other place in the world. With the proper vision and the support from family and friends, the sky is the limit! Favorite thing about Italy: The way of life. I have met some of the hardest-working people in Italy, but at the same time they put their quality of life first. Work hard, live harder! Also, the giddy feeling I get when I land there knowing that I developed Punzoné where my roots are. It's an incredibly humbling feeling. R&R: I try to spend as much time as possible with my wife and three beautiful boys. Usually we just cook together, enjoy some music and have family fun. Although I must say, I also enjoy disconnecting from it all with a nice quiet round of golf. Favorite drink: What I like to call the "Punzoné Famiglia": equal parts of all three Punzoné products, freshly squeezed orange—shaken, not stirred! Favorite meal to cook? A nice fresh filetto di pomodoro—it's simple and delicious! Favorite meal to be served: Anything my grandmother used to cook! Punzoné Originale blends vodka with Calabrian-sourced organic blood oranges.

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