How Paul Di Carlo Curates The Italian Wine Collection at Jimmy's Food Store | Dallas Observer


Meet Paul Di Carlo, the Wine Buyer at Jimmy's Food Store

Paul Di Carlo has curated a unique, and sought-after, collection of Italian wines.
Paul Di Carlo has curated a unique, and sought-after, collection of Italian wines. Lauren Drewes Daniels
Visit Jimmy’s, Dallas’ beloved Italian grocery and wine shop, and it’s obvious what’s not there: parking, curbside pickup with an e-commerce website and chain-style discount cards. And the wine prices are still slapped on the bottles with 1970s-style labels.

All of which — including its urban location at Bryan Street and Fitzhugh Avenue in Old East Dallas — helps explain why Jimmy’s continues to be a Dallas wine institution.
click to enlarge Jimmy's Food Store in East Dallas
Jimmy's is an Italian institution in Old East Dallas.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Yes, there may be lots of other places to buy wine, and even Italian wine, but Jimmy’s remains essential — the sort of place that makes a city a city and not an oversized suburb where people shop at Walmart-centric strip malls. Why else would tourists from places like Southlake and Plano show up every weekend?

“I really like this place, and wish there were one in California,” says Dan Fredman, a former Dallas wine retailer and now a wine marketer in California. “Jimmy’s is the local Italian grocery, regardless of what they may think in Queens or San Francisco.”

But tell this to Paul DiCarlo, who oversees Jimmy’s Italian-only wine business, and he is almost embarrassed about all the kind words.

“I don’t know that there is a rhyme or reason why we’re so popular,” says DiCarlo, whose family has owned Jimmy’s since 1966 and who today runs the store with his brother Mike. “We just try to find any interesting wines that the big stores don’t have.”

Jimmy’s wine success dates to the fire that destroyed the store in 2004. After rebuilding, the family decided to focus on Italian wine and food. In the early days, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see a bottle of Richards Wild Irish Rose on the shelf, and it was as much a neighborhood grocery as a specialty shop.

Jimmy’s success with wine, says DiCarlo, comes from taking advantage of the niche it has created — one that few retailers in Dallas have tried to fill. That includes selection: some of the city’s biggest chains send customers to Jimmy’s because the other retailers don’t carry such a thorough inventory. This is impressive (and a little ironic), given that there are only two aisles of wine in Jimmy’s.
click to enlarge Varja at Jimmy's Food Store Dallas
G.D. Vajra is from the Barolo community of Italy. The vintner was at Jimmy's for a tasting this past weekend.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
DiCarlo focuses on selection by working with smaller producers, importers and wholesalers, the kinds of companies that aren’t going to be able to get their wines into a chain.

“It’s not just a broad and deep selection of Italian wine, but also benchmarks for their regions, even for regions that most people haven’t heard of," says Fredman.

It’s also important, says DiCarlo, not to sell wine for no other reason than it’s expensive, another current retail wine trend. When offering a suggestion at the store he points to a bottle and says, "It's 15 but drinks like a 30."

“I always try to provide value to my customers,” says DiCarlo. “They aren’t collectors who keep wine to store. They’re people who drink wine, who want a good bottle of wine for dinner, who want wine for parties and entertaining. So that’s what I try to find.”

He recommends three wines that offer exceptional value: Scaia Corvino at $10–$12; Vietti Barbera at $15 or so; and a Super Tuscan from Antinoro or Gaja for less than $50.

Finally, don’t overlook the value of customer service when most retailers try to employ as few people as possible. Italian wine, with its 200 grapes (some of which have different names), is probably the most confusing in the world. But that’s not necessarily a problem at Jimmy’s, where someone is always around to answer a question. If all a customer knows is chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, which aren’t exactly Italian, DiCarlo will help them find something that isn’t those grapes, that they’ll like, that offers a value and that’s Italian.

What more does a wine drinker need?

Jimmy's Food Store, 4901 Bryan St., Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.; closed Sunday.
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Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon, is a Dallas wine writer and critic who specializes in inexpensive wine that most of us drink. He is the author of The Wine Curmudgeon's Guide to Cheap Wine (Vintage Noir Media) and oversees the award-winning Wine Curmudgeon website. He has taught classes on wine, spirits and beer at El Centro College and Cordon Bleu.
Contact: Jeff Siegel

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