When David Taub co-founded his wine importing company in 1977, most Americans knew about two kinds of Italian wine, and those mainly by their packaging: Chianti, for its straw-covered flask, and Soave Bolla, which came in a tall, elegant, rocket-shaped bottle.
Mr. Taub expanded Americans' palate for Italian wine -- if not their choice in bottles -- by introducing a simple white wine called pinot grigio. It became the top-selling Italian wine in the United States, part of an international surge in popularity that helped Italy surpass France in the 1980s as Europe's largest wine exporter.
Mr. Taub, whose firm, Palm Bay International, is among the largest wine importers in the United States, died Nov. 8 at 72. His son Marc said the cause was complications of kidney disease.
Soave Bolla was the most popular Italian white wine in America when Mr. Taub and his father, Martin, who were wine and liquor distributors, began to import a selection of varietals from the Trentino province of Italy, near the Italian Alps. The Taubs believed that one of those wines, pinot grigio, was the most likely to compete successfully with Soave.
It was crisper and more fruity than Soave, David Taub said in a 2010 interview with Wine Spectator magazine: "more in the American style -- easy to drink, customer-friendly."
"The problem," he added, "was, how do you take a wine that no one has heard of and introduce it into the marketplace?"
The Taubs first persuaded the vineyard that produced the wine to Anglicize its name. Cantina Viticoltori del Trentino, known as Ca'Vit, became Cavit. The importers told their U.S. distributors to pronounce it "like the talk-show host."
Then, through someone who knew someone, the younger Mr. Taub contacted Dick Cavett himself, who agreed to lend his cosmopolitan aura to an ad campaign.
The tag line was "Ask for Cavit, as in Cavett."
Starting virtually from zero, within two years the Taubs were importing 500,000 cases of Cavit wines, most of it pinot grigio. By 2010, Mr. Taub told Wine Spectator, the number was 3 million. In an interview Wednesday, Lucio Caputo, president of the Italian Wine and Food Institute, a New York-based trade association that works closely with the Italian government, called Mr. Taub "a pioneer in the expansion of the world" of Italian wine.
David Taub was born in Great Neck, N.Y., on Dec. 30, 1939, one of two children of Martin and Frances Taub. After graduating from Boston University in 1961 and serving in the military, he joined the family business, Gallo Wines Distributors of New York, where he worked until branching off to establish Palm Bay.