Saturday, December 10, 2005

New URL for Mondosapore

Please go to the new address for mondosapore:

SEX AND BOOZE AND JOHNNY CASH

Shameless Self-Promotion

For the past few years I have been working on a novel entitled Catch of the Day. I have posted about one quarter of it on another blog site, Writer at Work. If you like stories about 40-year olds coming of age, then this is one for you. Thanks.

Blurb: He Walked the Line

In 1957 Bill Blake, a 40-year-old rockabilly-loving drunk and novelist, runs away from his mother in Massachusetts and his failures as husband, father, man and artist. He winds up in a little town on the Maine coast, where he encounters Douglas Broadwood, a male spinster who harbors a passion for Jack Kerouac, an old friend who’s about to hit the literary big time. Into this repressed world comes a movie company to shoot a risqué soap opera of small-town shenanigans. With the cast and crew Bill blazes new trails in Downeast debauchery. Problem is, love starts to get in the way. Just as Bill realizes what happiness lies in store for him, Douglas Broadwood, the self-effacing innkeeper, stands in the wings, ready to snatch it away from him. Catch of the Day is a joyfully cynical look at a time and place confronting the limits of its own presumed innocence and its self-deceptions. And it shows Bill and Douglas engaged in a struggle for the thing they value most and acknowledge least: A ticket to Easy Street.

Camden, Maine in 1957, the model for Selene Harbor

Friday, December 09, 2005

Those Crafty Buggers in Albany

The New York Times reported today that, despite the passage of a New York State bill allowing consumers to order wine from out-of-state wineries, the bill has not yet been activated. The old three-tier system of distribution is safe for at least this Christmas, and the status quo can sleep easily, dreaming of eternal control of all wine sales. Yet why was I able to order fantastic gewurtztraminer from a Rhode Island winery, Sakonnet Vineyards, without no hassles and no delays? How closely is this decrepit old law being monitored or enforced anyway? "Al, hold onto your hat. They got a 'Patriot Act' now."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wine Diary #1 /// Diario del Vino No. 1

I, we, drink a lot of wine every week. Most of it at home, where we eat most of our dinners. Most of it pretty unpretentious stuff--usually $15 a bottle and LESS. And all bought with our own hard-earned samoleans. (Except when it's a gift, which isn't often enough.) So anyway, I decided to post a wine diary every once in a while, to chronicle our descent into Noetic unintelligibility. I would have started it a bit sooner, but we went out a couple of times last week and I have no idea what we drank, aside from generalities like "Tuscan Vermentino" and "Rosso di Montepulciano." I promise to be much more conscious of what I soak up from now on. This wine is what we actually drink with dinner or as an aperitif, never part of a "tasting." Io, anzi noi beviamo molto vino ogni sera. Per lo piu' a casa, dove mangiamo la maggior parte delle cene. Questo vino non ha pretensioni, jamais de la vie. Quasi sempre costa meno di $15, e ne compriamo tutto salvo quando e' regalo (quasi mai, purtroppo--benche' sia meglio non ricevere regali come bottiglie di vilissimi Shiraz australiani, Yellow Tail e roba del genere). Comunque mi sono deciso di fare un diario del vino, e lo postero' ogni tanto, per fare cronaca della nostra discesa nello stupore di Noe'. Questo l'avrei cominciato a fare prima ma, la settimana scorsa, ma siamo andati a ristoranti dove non avevo ben notato quel che ho ordinato, nonostante la memoria di generalita' come "Vermentino toscano" e "Rosso di Montepulciano". D'ora in poi saro' piu' consapevole dei miei eccessi. Questo vino e' cio' che beviamo, non "degustiamo." Parte essenziale dei nostri pasti.

Sat., Dec. 3 /// Sabato, 3 dic.

Zaca Mesa Chardonnay 2003 (California) -- pretty good aperitif, oaky but redeemed by acidity /// assai buono come aperitivo, troppo rovere ma "ridento" dall'acidita'

Villa Appalaccia Toscanello 2002 (Virginia) – Cabernet Franc 65%, Sangiovese 25%, Primitivo 10% -- not very Tuscan but light, soft, very pleasing, ate it with pizza and salad /// non "toscano" ma morbido, gradevole, ho bevuto con pizza e insalata

Sun., Dec. 4 /// Domenica, 4 dic.

Chateau de Campuget, Costieres de Nimes 2003 (France) – OK after a rough patch when first opened, does the job but high in sulfites? /// Rozzo ma poi OK, fa "il dovere" ma sulfitatissimo??

Mon., Dec. 5 /// Lunedi', 5 dic.

Veritas Cabernet Franc 2003 (Virginia) – Soft tannins, rather low in acidity but sort of charming in its light way, a soft ladylike personality…Constant Companion liked it better then I, since he tends to hate acidic wines with puckery tannins. /// Tannini morbidissimi ma un peu charmant, personalita' da donna BCBG...a mio Compagno Costante piu' piacevole che a me, perche' a lui non piace molto vino acidico con tannini pronunciati

Tues., Dec. 6 /// Martedi', 6 dic.

leftover wines (believe it or not) -- Zaca Mesa and Veritas Cabernet Franc

PLUS an Anjou:

Chateau des Fesles 2003, Anjou, France -- different take on CF, pronounced tannins, a little vegetal, wonderful /// diverso dal CF Veritas, tannini piu' potenti, vegetale, buonissimo con il salmone al forno

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Classic Barolo: Cavallotto on the Record

A month ago I wrote an enthusiastic article about Cavallotto, the old, traditional-style winemaker of Piedmont. I have drunk their wines at various times and am quite taken with their elegance and restraint. There's absolutely nothing of the fruit bomb about them, and they complement food perfectly. I was curious to know more about the Cavallottos and their point of view on both winemaking and wine markets, especially here in the US. In photo: Laura, Giuseppe and Alfio Cavallotto I contacted Alfio, who is, with his brother Giuseppe, the agronomist and enologist of the family firm, as well as a tireless promoter of their wines. I am pleased to share with you his responses to my questions. Market Trends I'm always interested to find out what's going on in the American market for Italian wine. In a time of a trumpeted "wine crisis" in Italy, which is due to falling domestic consumption and increasing foreign competition--and maybe a bit of overpricing, aka simple greed--Alfio told me the trend for Cavallotto wines was positive. Over the next few years "we'll maintain the same level of exports, and we'll probably increase our US sales somewhat. About 70% of our total production is exported, and 20% of the total goes to the United States." A lot of people wonder about the differences between the US and Italian markets. Alfio said that what has distinguished the American market has been "a greater susceptibility to the wine press. Especially back in the 1990s, it was very hard for traditional, classically styled wines to find a market there. It's changing now and Americans seem a lot more aware of what they're buying. Actually, compared with Europeans, Americans are now much more curious about classic wines and want to discover the various flavors that set them apart." Distribution plays a part, too. "A lot of the difference depends on the importer and his ability to make a market. These guys can make or break a wine." The Harvest of 2005 There was much hand-wringing in the Italian wine press about the quantity and quality of this year's vintage. Heavy rains were particularly worrisome in many regions. Thanks to a warm summer, though, Alfio told me that Cavallotto finished the harvest on October 1. "This was a good two weeks before we usually finish picking. And the downpours started the next day. We were very fortunate." His early assessment of the 2005s: "Very well-balanced, fresh wines with excellent color and softness. Obviously, this isn't a great year like 1999 or 2001, because the grapes don't have the same concentrations of sugars and polyphenols. But the elegance and drinkability of the 2005 Barolos will satisfy even the most demanding consumers." By the way, I couldn't resist the impulse to ask Alfio if he thought prices of Barolo were inflated. "Well, in the US especially some prices are rather high. But because of global economic conditions, and because 'non-typical' wines"--wines not expressive of their territories--"are falling out of favor, there is some repricing going on. Even so, I think wines like ours, which do express their territory and are true to the grape varieties we use, will hold their prices quite well." Read between the lines and you see that international-styled wines like Gaja's are losing their luster along with the commanding prices that were theirs. As I noted in a posting on Jancis Robinson's site several months ago, Sherry-Lehmann here in New York was discounting Gaja's top wines by 30-35%. (Cut to $225-250, they were still absurdly expensive.) Cavallotto, on the other hand, remains reasonably priced ($40-60) for nebbiolos that faithfully express their truffled terroir. Culture and Vision Lovers of Italy and its wines are currently obsessed with the movement toward autoctono or "indigenous" wine varieties. I'm one of those who applauds this trend; after all, it did inspire me to start this blog and name it "world of flavors" (Mondosapore). This long-term trend has already transformed the wines and reputations of regions in Italy's South, but its effects are evident in every region of the country. Alfio views it as a healthy development and, of course, positions his firm and his region as being in its vanguard. "Even until recently, very few producers in Italy really believed in the value of local varieties. Only those of us who made Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello did. After quite a few difficult years, we've seen things turn around, especially those of us who make classic-style wines. I think consumers are aware of this now, and they're looking for more typical, hand-made type wines rather than 'industrial' ones." At the mention of industrial wines, all thoughts lead to Mondovino, the Nossiter documentary that Americans loved to hate and that Europeans mostly loved. What did Alfio think of it? "I liked it. It brought to light how much of the industrial there is in a glass of wine, and how little of the farmer and his work!" I jokingly asked him about micro-oxygenation. He didn't bite, but he did wax eloquent about oak. "We use only Slavonic oak. I think it's the best wood for nebbiolo because it's the most neutral to the taste and the least sweet." (Are you listening, California?) "It's also really robust, so it's wonderful for the construction of large casks [up to 100 hectolitres]. We use only untoasted wood, so it enables the wine to age better--slower oxygenation for the softening of the tannins that are so strong in Barolo, to create the tertiary perfumes, but not to leave any vanilla flavors." Amen. This is how Cavallotto is hewing to the classic, the "typical." To me it sounds something like a winemaker's version of the Hippocratic oath. Alfio added, "The only problem--but a fascinating one--with sticking to this classic method is that, to get really good results, you have to age the Barolo in wood for three to six years." The Cavallotto family's results speak for themselves. Earthy yet refined. These are complex, long-finishing wines that are beautiful to look at in the glass and glorious to drink. No toast, no vanilla

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Due parole con Alfio Cavallotto

Un mese fa ho scritto un articolo entusiasta dopo una degustazione di alcuni vini Cavallotto. (Ne ho bevuto un po', e lo stile equilibrato mi piace moltissimo, niente di bomba frutto, ecc.) Poi ho avuto l'idea di comunicare con la famiglia Cavallotto, che io sappia qualcosa del suo punto di vista e magari un po' della "filosofia" che anima l'azienda. Qui a sinistra: Laura, Giuseppe ed Alfio Cavallotto Cosi' ho il gran piacere di presentarvi una breve ma informativa intervista con Alfio Cavallotto, agronomo ed enologo, con suo fratello Giuseppe, dei vigneti dell'azienda e instancabile promotore dei suoi vini. Tendenze del mercato Io (e voi evidentemente) sono interessato alle tendenze del mercato per tutti i vini italiani, non solo quelli pregiati come i Baroli, in particolare il mercato USA. Alfio mi ha detto che il trend per i prodotti Cavallotto e' positivo: "Manterremo lo stesso livello di export anche se, probabilmente, aumenteranno le vendite negli USA. Il 70% della nostra produzione viene esportato, 20% negli Stati Uniti." E' chiaro che qualunque crisi del vino influisca sugli export, quest'azienda ha delle aspettative ottimiste. Una questione che preoccupa molto gli amatori del vino italiano (e i responsabili della filiera): le differenze tra il mercato americano e quello italiano. Alfio ha risposto, "Il mercato americano, rispetto a quello italiano ed europeo in generale, e' forse piu' condizionabile dalla critica giornalista." Ironico questo dopo il recentissimo furore Wine Spectator. Comunque, Alfio nota un cambiamento negli ultimi anni. "Soprattutto negli anni '90 e' stato molto difficile per vini estremamente classici e tipici avere grande successo. Ora pero' ci sembra anche negli USA le cose stiano cambiando e che i consumatori siano diventati molto piu' consapevoli di cio' che comprano. Di conseguenza, rispetto agli Europei, sono anche diventati molto piu' curiosi di scoprire quali differenti sapori contraddistinguono i diversi vini classici." La GDO svolge il suo ruolo. "Un'altra differenza e' dovuta alla maggiore importanza che l'importatore e la rete di distribuzione assumono negli USA che, con la loro bravura, possono determinare il grande successo di un vino." La vendemmia Per fortuna, Alfio ha affermato, la vendemmia e' state buona per Cavallotto. "Si e' conclusa il 1 ottobre, ben quindici giorni in anticipo rispetto la media. Fortunatamente le persistenti piogge di ottobre sono iniziate dal 2 ottobre." E allora? Che cosa pensa del vino dell'annata? "Vini molto equilibrati, freschi, di ottimo colore e morbidezza. Ovviamente non sara' un'annata importante come il 1999 o il 2001 in quanto l'uva non possedeva simili concentrazioni di zuccheri e polifenoli. Ma l'eleganza e la facilita' con cui si berra' il Barolo 2005, fara' apprezzare questo vino anche ai clienti piu' esigenti." Non ho potuto resistere all'impulso di porre questa domanda: i prezzi del Barolo sono giusti o gonfiati? Al suo parere, "Soprattutto negli USA alcuni prezzi (non solo del Barolo) sono alquanto gonfiati." Ha notato pero' un ridimensionamento, dovuto in parte alla situazione economica mondiale ma, "anche e soprattutto, a vini poco tipici che entrano ora in una spietata competizione," ha detto. "Credo invece che per il futuro i vini tipici, cosiddetti 'di territorio,' avranno un valore aggiunto sempre piu' importante e aumenteranno il loro valore." Ovviamente, sarebbero buone notizie per un produttore di profilo tradizionale, come Cavallotto--e, quanto a me, spero che abbia ragione. Cultura e visione Ho desiderato sapere la sua opinione della tendenza autoctona, che mi sembra vector del risorgimento del Sud, e non solo. Lo cito a lungo: "Pochissimi produttori del passato, anche recente, credevano al valore di un vino prodotto da uva autoctona, solo noi del Barolo e Barbaresco e Brunello ci abbiamo fortemente creduto. Dopo anni molto difficili questi vini sembrano ora risorgere, soprattutto se prodotti in modo classico. Credo infatti che piano piano il consumatore sia diventato piu' consapevole di cio' che beve e, oltre alla qualita' e genuinita', ricerca sempre piu' vini tipici, di terroir e derivati dal solo lavoro contadino, a discapito dei vini industriali." Ah, vini industriali...questione che ci mena, inesorabilmente, verso la polemica, cioe' Mondovino. Che ha pensato Alfio di quel film? "Mi e' piaciuto. Ha messo in luce quanto di 'industriale' ci puo' essere in un bicchiere di vino, e quanto poco lavoro contadino!" La mia domanda scherzosa di micro ossigenazione non gli era interessante ma il soggetto del rovere--il rovere di Slavonia--l'ha fatto eloquente. "Questo rovere per me e' il miglior legno per il Nebbiolo perche' e' piu' neutro al gusto e meno dolce." (Ascoltate, winemakers di California?) "Ha inoltre eccellenti doti di robustezza che lo rendono particolarmente adatto per la costruzione di grandi botti. Noi utilizziamo solo botti non tostate; in questo modo il legno viene usato solo per la funzione di "invecchiamento" e cioe' di lentissima ossidazione per ammorbidire i tannini del Barolo e creare profumi terziari e non per dare gusti vanigliati." Amen. Cosi' si salvaguarda un vino tipico, classico. E' una versione enologica del giuramento ippocratico, o almeno mi pare. Aggiunge, "L'unico inconveniente, ma anche il lato piu' affascinante di questo metodo classico, e' che per ottenere eccellenti risultati si deve aspettare la maturazione del Barolo nelle botti per tre a sei anni." I risultati dell'azienda Cavallotto--ca va sans dire. Vini complessi, persistenti, molto bevibili. Bellezze del loro terroir.
Botti slavoniche, mai tostate

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Straightshooter Takes on Michel Bettane

I am reprinting the English translation of a strongly worded article which appeared last July originally on the web site LaVinium. It was written by Franco Ziliani, the Straightshooter ("franco tiratore"), whose wonderfully evocative article on Barolo country I translated here last week. Franco has generously granted me permission to bring his point of view to the American wine-drinking public. The translation was provided by his fans at the premier seller of quality Italian wines in the New York area, the Italian Wine Merchants on 16th Street.

I think you will appreciate Franco's knowledge and relish his pungent way of expressing himself. He is a welcome antidote to the smarmy horseshit that characterizes so much wine writing, both in the States and...everywhere else, actually.

Michel Bettane passes judgment on the 2001 Barolo but the King of Nebbiolo remains an unfathomable, impenetrable mystery…

Try to imagine the French wine world’s reaction if an overly self-confident Italian journalist were to judge the leading domaines of Bordeaux and Burgundy by comparing them to “the achievements of the best of Italian enology, whose aesthetic fundaments can be applied, without any trace of chauvinism, to all foreign wines,” including those made in France.

At the very least, Paris and her surroundings would respond by calling him arrogant and presumptuous. They might go so far as to use an epithet like “crazy” or even “vieux con” (“old asshole”). What would happen if this guy were so sure of his science and his “aesthetic fundaments” that he would use his high-handed “personal vision” to mercilessly pan the crème of a coterie of winemakers in a classic zone of production and call them passé, adding that their wines stink and have high levels of volatile acidity and that they represent “a wise, old style, wise but old nonetheless”? Those who love modernity at any cost can take it or leave it: in their opinion, anyone who attempts to respect the historical tradition or identity of a wine is paradoxically opposed to what they consider an undeniable logic for change.

In Italy, in the wake of Michel Bettane’s recent article “Icones et contadini” (“Icons and Farmers,” published in his bi-weekly newsletter Tast and available on his site www.bettanedesseauve.com), which he devoted to the “leading producers of the appellation in Piedmont,” my more-than-authoritative (is that how it’s said?) French colleague will not have suffer the same indignities Ziliani would have had he dared to attack a domaine in Burgundy or Bordeaux or Côte du Rhône who has not conformed to the dictates of the Parker style. But Bettane is in danger of receiving praise for having so acutely applied himself to a story of Barolo intended for lovers of the French language.

Even though he wrote—bordering on the ridiculous—that he was capable of evaluating Barolo by comparing it to the “achievements of the best of French enology, whose aesthetic fundaments can be applied, without a trace of chauvinism, to all foreign wines.” (Sic!)

Neither the present writer nor this publication are believers in political correctness or inflated grades: they like to call a spade a spade and, frankly, they prefer to speak their minds. We have no reservations in saying that not only is Bettane’s article offensive but it shows how it is impossible to understand Barolo unless you possess the necessary humility and willingness to evaluate the wine with an open mind. This article reminds us that Bordeaux wines are one thing and Bettane undoubtedly knows and understand them. But Nebbiolo-based wines are another thing entirely and they can only originate in the magnificent terroir of Barolo.

It would require pages and pages—the best thing would be to translate the whole article—to convey Bettane’s various misunderstandings, misconceptions, and mistakes (last year he gave readers a taste of his very personalized approach to Piedmont wines in the first edition of the supplement Italie della Revue du Vin de France devoted to the region, which he edited). He throws up his hands and admits that “some of my opinions may seem strange to those who follow these wines in American magazines and Italian guidebooks.”

One particular gem will give you an idea. In this chestnut, Bettane is discussing—it goes without saying—Angelo Gaja, the King, the Pope of Popes. Bettane states that “the greatest Barolos today don’t say Barolo on the label. Angelo Gaja has opted for the appellation Langhe (Nebbiolo) so that when necessary, he can add a little bit of Barbera, otherwise not allowed by the appellation even though many producers have no problem adding Barbera without saying anything.”

This is a masterpiece and a telling example of how an illustrious guardian of the Revue du vin de France sees Barolo and the wines of Le Langhe and how he happily embraced—without reservations and/or skepticism—the commonly accepted explanation for Monsù Gaja’s decision not to use the name Barolo for his Sperss. As all good children know, the reason is that he needed to add a pinch of Barbera to the Nebbiolo, of course. No other reason whatsoever…

If these were Bettane’s only outrageous misunderstandings, we would accept them. If he believes the best “Barolo” to be Gaja’s Langhe Nebbiolo, that’s fine. He can drink it. We would be much happier to imbibe a Barolo by Cappellano, Cavallotti, Mascarello, or Rinaldi. But it is a different matter when our professorial French taster, with his legitimately subjective opinions, mercilessly slams other iconic figures, i.e., “the producers who perpetuate a style of wine that I judge to be obsolete and that today has taken the form of an almost religious cult. In this regard, I am in complete disagreement with certain Piedmontese and American critics, even though I respect their position.” When he pans Bruno Giacosa, Bartolo Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno Beppe Rinaldi… No, this cannot be tolerated. Even the facile manner of the insult is offensive: “the way of it afflicts me still,” as Dante would say.

What does Monsieur Bettane actually say about these figures? I feel obliged to translate his observations.

And it won’t take long.

He calls Bruno Giacosa “a grand figure of Piedmont who has been idolized by local sommeliers and Robert Parker.” He affirms that he has “always had a hard time understanding his wines: in the 1980s, the wines were too wild and tended to vary from bottle to bottle. Today, they are much more refined. At least this is true of his Barolo and Barbaresco cuvée haut de gamme. They have finally achieved a delicate, peaceful style but they are curiously lifeless. Extended aging smoothes Nebbiolo’s youngish rough edges and it also gives the wine a certain tannic rustic quality. But it also takes away the vibrancy of its fruit and its texture. An old, wise style. Wise but old nonetheless.”

Although we mustn’t take offense with our French brother, such bêtises and nonsense, for what they’re worth, illustrate his extraordinary critical approach. In his article, he strikes down Giacomo Conterno together with his legacy: “I have never found elegance in their wines and, in particular, never in the celebrated Monfortino. Undoubtedly, this is because classic Bordelaise enology has deformed my palate.”

Bettane describes Beppe “Citrico” Rinaldi as a “man rich in charm and clearly a defender of a respectable tradition.” But according to the critic who believes the best Barolo to be Gaja’s Langhe Nebbiolo spiked with Barbera, Rinaldi’s wines are unfortunately “uneven. Sometimes wonderfully complex but too often they are affected by analytical defects no longer admissible by today’s standards, like volatile acidity or wild animal aromas. My most recent tastings have been catastrophic.”

Well, if you have managed to resist the temptation to write to Bettane and tell him—in the spirit of friendship, mind you—to go to hell, I fear that your patience and tolerance will not last much longer when you read (and I ask you to read and re-read them and test your rage) the sweet nothings that this man from Paris uses to explain Barolo to the French. Shamelessly, he calls Bartolo Mascarello “an old, malicious philosophical winemaker.” What’s more, because he is ill-informed, he claims that Mascarello died last year (he passed away in March of the current year and will be greatly missed).

On the subject of Bartolo and his wines, the French expert (have we any choice but to call him a French expert?) writes that his wines “were originally very fine and pure. Often compromised and ruined by old barrels that gave them animal and wild flavors that his incredulous followers attributed to terroir. I sincerely hope, in memory of the time we spent together in 1988, that his daughter has put an end to these defects.”

There’s nothing that can be said in the face of such a stinging, superficial, and arrogant attitude with regard to Bartolo and his wines. Those of us who have always believed in them are anything but crazy. It offends his memory and his decades of hard work. These heartfelt words ought to suffice to understand how Bettane—as he honestly stated—tastes and judges Barolo with the palate, mentality, and approach of a taste philosophy typical of someone who regularly tastes and drinks Bordeaux. This is clear in his choice of winemakers he calls “masters,” or rather, “those producers who have taken winemaking to its highest level in Barolo”: not just Gaja Roberto Voerzio, Altare, Clerico, Sandrone, but even Parusso, whom he judged—word for word—to be “the most extraordinary stylist of the appellation and who has even managed to surpass his idol Altare in his integration of strength and subtlety.” (???)

In the category of hopefuls, he also proves to be off the mark (Enzo Boglietti and Luigi Pira di Serralunga are hopefuls? It’s more likely that they are certainties). At least when it comes to the classics (here we go again), Bettane finally manages to get something right. Among those who embrace “the steadfast values of the appellation and who show regularity and correctness in style,” he includes important, solid names like Brovia, Brezza, Aldo Conterno, Vietti, Conterno Fantino, the Scavinos, and Cordero di Montezemolo.

But while Bettane considers these winemakers to be classics, he does not hold the Mascarellos, the Giacosas, and the Rinaldis to be leaders and true masters. For him, they are stuck between the dusty icons handed down by the past. They have nothing to say and nothing to give. This attitude is not only absurd and scandalous, but it shows how it takes more than being a great expert (or at least that’s what they call them) in France to truly understand Barolo in its greatest and most authentic expressions. Dommage, too bad, Monsieur Bettane. You have failed your Barolo exam: study up and, most importantly, learn how to taste with more humility and without preconceived notions. You cannot rely on the disfiguring crutch of classic Bordelaise enology. We’ll see you again next September. For the time being, Barolo—the true Barolo—will remain an unfathomable mystery...

Franco Ziliani

Monday, November 28, 2005

Keeping the Faith: Tales of a Wine Importer: Su Aristide la versione italiana

Cari lettori italiani, cliccate il titolo per vedere su Aristide l'articolo su Greg Smolik, importatore USA di vini autentici italiani. Greg e' davvero un credente del mondo di sapori, di bellezze del vino italiano. Grazie. E grazie ad Aristide, chi desidera allargare il cerchio di godimento del vino "nostrano".

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sogni d'Alanno /// Dreaming Alanno

English version below. In un post precedente ho gia' scritto che sono andato in Virginia per la festa Thanksgiving. Oltre alle solite e belle visite famigliari, ho incontrato una coppia, cari amici di mia cognata, che hanno comprato una casa nel bel paese abruzzese di Alanno. Tom ed Anne si traslocheranno ad Alanno entro dieci giorni, per sistemare la casa. Ecco la bella: avranno bisogno di housesitters (come si direbbe in italiano?) per tutto il mese d'agosto. Ci hanno, generosamente, invitati a restarci come fosse casa nostra. Cosi' a voi cari lettori domando: quali aziende vinicole sarebbero le migliori visitare? E quali piccole citta' e paesi nascosti piu' "varrebbero il viaggio"? Per un Americano senza sacchi di denaro questo e' un sogno della vita, passare un mese in un locale meno affollato dei centri turistici Romafirenzevenezia. La "vera" autentica, oppure la "profonda" Italia. Io accoglio, grato, tutte informazioni sull'Abruzzo... Dreaming Alanno In a recent post I mentioned that I just got back from a short Thanksgiving visit in Richmond, Virginia. It was great to see family again. And it was a huge and unexpected surprise to meet Anne and Tom, good friends of my sister-in-law, a couple who are moving to a hilltop town in Abruzzo, near the Adriatic coast of Italy. They are moving there very soon to renovate the house they've bought. And here's the beauty part: they invited us to come house-sit for them in August. This generous offer is a mind-blower, and a long-held dream come true. I wonder if any of you out there in the blogosphere know anything about Abruzzo and specifically the vineyards it would be good to visit. Needless to say, I'll be blogging my little heart out all the while. Reporting straight from the tasting room, so to speak. What's so fantastic about this is that, for Americans with limited means, we get to savor a little of "the real Italy," well off the over-trodden route of Romeflorencevenice. I welcome any information you can pass along to me about this region, especially Chieti and Pescara and their environs. And thanks to Tom and Anne, needless to say.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Keeping the Faith: Tales of a Wine Importer

Since last summer Dr. Vino has been running a feature called the Real Wine World, which periodically tells the stories of several people involved in various parts of the wine business. One of the people Dr. Vino has featured is a young importer from Chicago, Greg Smolik. The chronicle of Greg's ups and downs is sobering. Inspiring too, because the guy loves Italian wine and the enormous potential they have to be unique and full of character, as well as correctly priced. I was interested in what made Greg tick and what was going on with him, so I asked if I could interview him at a distance. Here is my take on what he had to tell me. THE LONER IN STORY AND REALITY The loner. The guy who has to follow his own dream, pursue his personal vision. We love him in books and movies; he always prevails in art or at least suffers such a glamorous defeat that it becomes a sort of moral victory. The so-called moral victory. ("Shane! Shane! Come back!") The reality of American life, of modern life, is quite different of course. The loner with a vision often leads a precarious existence. "Dreaming is free," as the song goes. Entrepreneurship comes dear. Enter Greg Smolik, Chicago boy, ex of Sam's Wines, Italo-American. And passionate believer in the worth of "artisanal" wines made of local grape varieties. Seeking that sense of place After eight years at Sam's, Greg decided to go it alone. His vision: seek out small producers all over Italy who make "authentic" wines that exhibit a "real sense of place." In other words, traditionally-made wines from autochthonous varieties. His goal: bring these deserving wines to the US market at reasonable prices. "I used to spend a lot of time with my cousins and my uncle on their farm outside of Rome. As I helped my uncle, he would explain how every region--and regions within regions--made their own wines, with their own varieties and climates. All the possibilities blew me away." Finding those wineries that best expressed their terroir became a driving force in his life while he was still employed by Sam's. Every day he tasted the differences between such exciting wines and the industrial products that sold in vast quantities (backed up by big marketing budgets). The reasons for this dichootmy are several, but Greg puts it succinctly: "Small producers have the ability to devote their attention to everything. It's a lot easier to do like that when you have 10 hectares, as opposed to 100 hectares." Six varieties in search of a champion? The internationalization of wine disturbs Greg, as it obviously does many people. "International varieties have outpublicized the native ones, and the international flavor profile that's resulted is the product of excessive manipulation." Pity. Well-made indigenous wines have "a texture, balance and purity that no international variety can have [outside its own native terrority]. Who knows," he said, "maybe in decades to come such grapes will be pulled up and local ones will replace them." Greg's current portfolio is small (listed below), with an emphasis on Italy's South and Central regions. In any case, the producers fit Greg's criteria: small, well-made, unique in flavor, and competitively priced. He believes that the up-and-coming regions, soon to follow the success of Sicily and lately Puglia at polishing their image and producing sensational wines, are Basilicata (aglianico central) and Umbria, in part because of the tourism that keeps the industry alive there. As to Basilicate and aglianico, he says "this grape will be to Basilicata what Pinot Noir is to Burgundy and Nebbiolo to Piedmont: the quintessential expression of that region." Heartache: the one that got away There are special problems that dog you when you deal with small producers--farmers, really, who still retain something of the desperate/untrusting/guileful habits of the peasant. Greg notes that there's a fear that he will misrepresent them, or cheat them. Out of that fear, or simple greed, they may strike deals with more than one US importer. Or they may just be clueless how to present and market their wines, which affects everything from bottle-to-bottle variations to labels and so on. Greg has some excellent small-producer wines in his portfolio now. But there are always the ones that got away. He mentioned one wine made from the Cesanese grape, which is documented to about 200 BC. "It's a superb red made on a property in Lazio, a little south of Rome." It promised to be a breakthrough for him. Not only a fine wine at a great price, but made in quantities large enough to enable him to build a market for it in the States. So what happened? "The family was untrustworthy." Who ever said it would be easy? For the time being, Greg's hopes for the "big one" are dashed. But only for the time being. He still is "knocked out by all the possibilities that Italy offers. It's hard to wait but the wait will be worth it." Note: Greg travels to Italy five times a year. Email him if you know of any undiscovered gems. Including your own. The Smolik portfolio Greg's current portfolio consists of a few carefully selected wines. Basilium from Basilicata -- featuring Aglianico and other varieties of red and white
DeFalco from Campania Cabanon from Lombardy And a private label Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Novita' virginiane: Italia nelle montagne Blue Ridge

Sono appena ritornato da un corto viaggio sentimentale in Virginia--due giorni per la festa di Thanksgiving--e ho "esportato" una bottiglia di un "Toscanello" virginiano, composto di Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese e Primitivo. (Uvaggio fuor dell'ordinario, no?) La cantina, di nome Villa Appalaccia, produce solo 3000 casse all'anno, e i vitigni sono Aglianico, Primitivo, Corvina, Sangiovese, Malvasia, Pinot Grigio e il vitigno "signature" dello stato, Cabernet Franc. Il sito web e' interessante per altre informazioni. L'azienda cerca di produrre ulive in un clima ostile (molto umido, freddissimo d'inverno), e possiede una villa nei pressi di Lucca. Enoturismo transatlantico, redditi by every means possible. Presentero' la mia recensione entro poche settimane. Ho comprato un'altra bottiglia alla River City Cellars a Richmond: un Cabernet Franc di Veritas, azienda piuttosto reclamee del Commonwealth of Virginia. Sara' interessante assaggiarla.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Four Days in Barolo Country: Italy's Wine Crisis Up Close by Franco Ziliani

Franco Ziliani is one of Italy's most respected and widely read wine writers. Known as "il franco tiratore" (the Straightshooter), he combines encyclopedic knowledge with trenchant commentary. With his permission I have translated this article from his recent blog entry on Virgilio. If you feel moved to make your own comment, send it to him at this site. His English is excellent. I have just come back from four intense days in the magnificent Barolo area, and I have a great deal to share with you--impressions, emotions, states of mind. To travel at this time of the year around Barolo and neighboring towns such as La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Castiglione Falletto, Verduno and other wine-making communities is wonderful. As it is to meet with many of the key wine people, especially the producers who are well-known, and the others who are more locally renowned. It's given me another glimpse at the things that make Barolo unique, and it's shown me the region at a crucial stage in its existence. This is a particularly delicate time in the Barolo region, which is riven by a sense of crisis and self-examination. Dreams and nightmares abound. To better understand what's actually happening, I'll engage the help of Nico Orengo, author of a recent, wonderful novel entitled Di viole e liquirizia (Of Violets and Liquorice, a perfect Barolo title if there ever was one). Set in and around Alba, it provides a lucid, critical look at what's happened there over the past fifteen years: the mistakes, the lack of strategic vision, the killing ingenuousness. In the novel, Orengo uses a taxi driver as a mouthpiece and narrator, a critical conscience who asks: "Want to buy a vineyard? You can't buy anything anymore. Nobody's selling. If you got land, you hold onto it. The last bunch that sold it, back in the Seventies, to go to work at Fiat in Turin, they got 17 million a hectare. Now you can get seven, eight hundred million lire a hectare. Look around: they're all millionaires now. Well, as long as it lasts..." It didn't last. And not just because, as Orengo writes, "we've become the Ferrari of wine--and the Ford." Or because "everything here in the Langhe is invented--we've always invented. We created ourselves a paradise for vineyards and wine tourists," where people are dominated by an unexamined, grandiose "rhetoric of wine." Above all, in Orengo's novel, things have changed there because "people don't look you in the eye," and "what really matters is your [wine] portfolio," and "there aren't any fruit trees--all the orchards were cut down to make room for more vineyards, hillside after hillside of them, all the same," so that the very landscape has been stripped of memories and it "seems like we were all born lords of the manor ever since, some time, this land lost its memory of its old hardships." The transformation of the Langhe has been complete, according to this author. "The old peasant ways are gone, with a few rare exceptions. The rest is all chemicals and machinery, hand in glove with oenologists, technicians, PR hacks, and international sales reps," all of which together have "made the wine into an industry, like manufacturing sports cars," with its new-style people and a new economic paradigm. In light of these enormous changes, it's easier to understand how, in 2005, Barolo is in trouble. This despite an unprecedented parade of stunning vintages in the 1990s, and an international reputation that's never been more illustrious. Some of the mistakes people there have made can be attributed to the simple fact that they weren't used to success, to vast amounts of money. It's understandable that they've become a bit engorged with it. But there is another reason Barolo has lost its way: gone are the great leaders who once had the integrity and strength to guide the region, such as the Ratti family, who were able to rise above mere self-interest; and the Consorzio Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe Roero, which would have condemned the suicidal rush to plant more and more vines, to produce more and more bottles, and increase prices year after stellar year. "As long as it lasts," indeed. The Consorzio might have acted as a brake on those who have tried (and succeeded) to alter the style and identity of the wine, all to please the overseas wine writers and importers. Today, after the first great euphoria and the illusion that the golden years of growth were endless, the world of Barolo is back to its old fear and uncertainty. The cellars are full to bursting with unsold wine, business has shifted to low gear...and the investors still want their pay-out. No wonder there's a certain lack of enthusiasm among the region's players regarding the future of their lands and the denomination, along with a fear that their lovely toy just might be broken. To put it another way, there's a sense that the unique and beautiful wine of Barolo could be replaced by other wines that are somehow better able to stand up to the brutal winds sweeping every market. There are plenty of doubts, too, in the producers' minds. They wonder if they will be able to find a market for their 2002, a vintage that's wrongly been talked down. This in spite of their experiments and costly investments to appeal to a global market--often aided and abetted in this by a smarmy and uncritical wine press. Many questions remain. One thing is certain: the indisputable greatness of many of these wines. (I tasted two extraordinary ones at the marvelous new restaurant in Alba, Piazza Duomo: Barolo Bricco Rocche Ceretto 1990 and 1982.) The fascination of these wines seems to come right out of the air, the bewitching air of these bricchi (hilltops) and sori` (slopes), where, despite all the changes, things seem to become as they were in certain magical moments. How can you not feel a powerful attraction to these lands, these hills and hills of vineyards where, Orengo writes, in winter "the mist rises and everything comes to a halt but the damp: a spider's web of water drops glimmers everywhere you look and it seems as though you're inside a giant chandelier. No sound but some branch that somehow finds the strength to break itself in two or some stone splits in the frost. The frost paves the roads and as you travel down them you feel as if you're on the keyboard of an out-of-tune piano."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Confessione

Lo ammetto: mi piace bere non de-gu-sta-re. Si beve per bere. Per essere ubriachi qualchevolta, o almeno un po' e dolcemente forsennati. No? Sei troppo raffinato, troppo elegante, perfino possiedi una superiore moralita'? Beato te. Ecco, e' colpa di Bacco. 'Sto dio m'ha fatto fare. ("The devil made me do it!") Stasera ho bevuto, si', ma non tanto. (Vermentino sardo e poi Pinot Noir della North Coast californiana, vino assai buono ma niente persistente.) Ma mi stufano le sciocchezze autoesaltanti che leggo sulle riviste e sui blog, come se fossimo noi, amatori dell'uva, sacerdoti di un sommo buono. Ci piace prendere una sbornia, no? Ed e' questa la verita': The good life has its down side--hangovers. Gueules de bois. Uffa, che miseria, che utile promemoria delle vere condizioni della vita umana. Eccomi, a Parigi, avec la gueule de bois: laissez les bons temps rouler!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Zaca Mesa Syrah 2001: Tell Me What It Cost

My brother-in-law gave me a bottle of Zaca Mesa's 2001 Syrah, a souvenir of his recent trip to the Santa Inez Valley of California. He asked me to taste the wine and guess at its cost, without researching it on the Internet. Well, OK. We had it tonight with meatloaf, baked potato and squash. An American comfort meal, if I ever ate one. The wine went perfectly with it--full-bodied and fruity, with perhaps a little too much oak for my taste, lending it an additional layer of sweetness. But a nice wine that I didn't at all mind drinking. What did it cost? I wonder. I really haven't snooped on the Net...maybe $15-16? By the way, a wine of this complexity and depth from the south of France would cost, what, $8-10? Somebody help me out, spill the metaphorical beans! And I do really wish I had something with more depth and character to drink right now...maybe some of that sensational Australian semillon, Miranda Botrytis, which is a hell of a bargain at $20 a half-bottle.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Too Much Tongue

This is a very loose translation of a post--really a riff-- that I published in Italian a few days ago. I'd love to hear comments from you, pro or con. This is a subject that's been bugging me for a while. The other day, when I was writing down my impressions of the Cavallotto Dolcetto d'Alba, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that the tongue is too central to our language of tasting wine. It's all about the berries and fruits we taste and sugary coatings we feel on our tongues, the bite of tannins, the puckering of acids and so on. Granted, we talk about the nose, and we swirl and swirl to release ethers, etc. But it's all in service of the tongue. Now don't get me wrong. The tongue is a useful and delightful organ. Mine is used for many things, many of which lead to bliss. But the overattention we give to the tongue makes us forget about the complete experience of drinking wine. And this, I believe, causes us to miss the mark in assigning relative degrees of merit to one wine or another. To me, at least, a good wine is above all an evocative wine. Do you see what I see? This is a bold move: involving sight when talking about drinking wine. But let's think back to a hot, sunny day in July. There I am with a glass of Vermentino--a Sardinian Vermentino from the large winery Sella & Mosca, a very pleasant and restrained but not "remarkable" wine--and I'm drinking the light-colored, dry wine before and with dinner, a nice piece of fried dayboat flounder from Montauk. There is a haunting undertaste of something wild in the wine, I suppose you could call it a hint of the macchia, the Mediterranean undergrowth, and the acidic snap of lemon. But it's more about the sea, and the name on the label reinforces that impression: La Cala, the cove. It's free association time. Evoking, evoking... So. Here I am on the 22nd floor, the sun blasting in over all the skyscrapers of Midtown, lolling around with a glass of chilled Vermentino that makes me feel like I'm swimming under water in some Sardinian cove, cool and silent, searching the sandy bottom, far away from the sweating millions and the horns blaring on First Avenue, and the medium I swim in isn't salty water but clear, briny Vermentino. Soon the fish will be in the pan, the lemon is already sliced. It's a lovely hour of rest after an arduous day. And an $8 bottle of wine's transported me well out of the grimy city into a place that, for a while, is just about perfect. How can tired gustatory similes "like lychee nuts" and " like gooseberries" begin to compare with the power of wine to evoke other places, other states, other joys?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Dolcetto d'Alba with Roast Pork

The other day I wrote a fairly tipsy little rhapsody to the Cavallotto Dolcetto d'Alba, which we had just drunk at home with a roast loin of pork. That post was in Italian, but I think it's important to translate the mini-review into English. (Without the drunken rhapsodic references to autumn hedgerows and the great Piedmontese writer and suicide, Cesare Pavese.) I will simply repeat that Cavallotto is a superb producer of Barolo and other Piedmontese varieties; they're all extremely worthwhile. The Dolcetto cost just $13.99 and was a delightfully nuanced wine for the price. It finished pretty long and left a wonderful mixture of flavors in my appreciative gob: liquorice, fallen leaves, and an earthiness reminiscent of truffles, (not so) oddly enough. The fruit I tasted was grape, not the usual orchard that tasters feel obligated to call upon to describe what's hit their palate. It also had a refreshing acidity that kept the autumn flavors from being oppressive, and it was a lovely match with the rosemary-scented pork loin. The Cavallotto Dolcetto d'Alba would be a wonderful house wine for the colder months of the year, complementing all kinds of savory dishes that keep the chill outside. If you can find it, buy a bottle. Chances are you'll want more. By the way, in case you're wondering, this is not part of a viral marketing campaign for Cavallotto. I just happen to be taken with their wines. They are not overdone, overoaked, overanything. Honest, clean, balanced. And the varietal character of the grapes they use comes through loud and clear.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

La Questione della Lingua

Ieri, scrivendo delle impressioni che mi davano quel bel Dolcetto d'Alba Cavallotto, mi e' venuto in mente, e non per la prima volta, che la lingua e' troppo "centrata" quanto si degusta, quando si beve. "Impressioni," esatto. A stroll down Memory Lane Mi ricordo dei commenti scritti, O decenni fa!, sulle pagine di una mia tesi su Whitman (credo--o di Mark Twain o di Emily Dickenson, la memoria tradisce spesso, molto piu' spesso or che son vecio), nei quali il professore mi rimprovero' il mio approccio "impressionistico," poco rigoroso secco accademico. Be', imparai a conformarmi alle norme, alle regole del gioco e a brandire quel linguaggio impoverito da bandiera CCCP: poesia scatenata ora imprigionata nella pseudoscienza. Il mio vagheggiare serve, credete o no. Il lessico degustatorio mi sembra altrettanto limitato, centrandosi troppo alle impressioni linguali e non sufficientemente all'esperienza "totale" del vino. Quanto riguarda il Dolcetto d'Alba di ieri sera (prezzo solo $14, piu' tasse!) avrei esaurito il vocabolario enofilo se fossi costretto a descriverne i frutteti che, abracadabra, sono apparsi nella bocca. Avrei tradito il vino e la sapienza che l'ha creato. (E se domandate, Tutto questo per un vino di $14??, rispondo io: E' un vino che vale la pena!) L'analogia piu' adatta e' forse nel fare l'amore. Quando sei "nell'atto," come si direbbe in inglese, non analizzi ogni sensazione ("ora mi tocca la pelle ma solletica troppo, mi fa abbrividire, questo bacio e' bagnatissimo, che schifo", ecc.), anzi si sente ondeggiare, ci sono tempeste, paesaggi, delfini che saltano sotto i monti e i palazzi di Crete, c'e' un gran ricco mondo di impressioni, memorie, associazioni, sentimenti (Zampano' ubriaco sulla sabbia, piangendo!)...
Un uomo come gli altri prima di bere del vino
E cosi' mi pare quando bevo un bel vino. Coinvolge esperienze reali che coinvolgono ricordi profondi, sensazioni veritiere ma, insomma, davvero ineffabili.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dolcetto d'Alba con Maiale Arrostito

Ho gia' scritto sull'azienda Cavallotto, conosciuta da tutti in Italia come ottimo produttore di baroli e di altri vini di vitigni stimati piemontesi. E stasera abbiamo appena concluso un pasto bello di maiale arrostito al rosmarino con patate, abbinato al Dolcetto d'Alba di Cavallotto. Che posso dire? Un po' ubriaco si', sto benissimo e c'e' nella bocca la memoria della liquirizia e di una buon'acidita' e di un aroma di terra, di foglie cadute che mi fanno venir in mente i cespugli e i finali giorni d'estate come se io fossi Cesare Pavese perche', come gia' sappiamo, il diavolo e' sulle colline e la piu' bella estate dev'avere fine... Oddio, che fandonie mi fanno dire il vino, particolarmente un vino cosi' onesto e buono, fresco e delizioso! Ecco, l'autunno vive nel Dolcetto Cavallotto, e l'ora e' questa. Viva l'autunno se ci sia una cassa di questo bel vino onesto e non troppo fruttato!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Supertuscan Lovers, A Must-Read

If you're fascinated with Supertuscans and other Italian wines that lean heavily on Bordeaux grapes and styles of winemaking, check out the first of the two reports originally written, in Italian, by our friend Giampiero Nadali (alias Aristide) of Verona. I translated it and again want to point it out to you, just in case you missed it the first time. (By the way, the man in this photo is the celebrity winemaker Giacomo Tachis, who is credited with establishing the Supertuscan style with prestige brands like Sassicaia and Tignanello.) I posted Aristide's second article (in English) just the other day. It covers the tasting of a wide range (137) of Bordeaux-style wines from all over Italy. I am pointing the articles out to you so that they'll be at the top of your screen when you come to Mondosapore. Interesting articles--informative and thought-provoking. Thank you, Giampiero.
-- Photo by Giampiero Nadali at Villa Gritti, Verona

Friday, November 11, 2005

Vini bordolesi italiani, addio ai SuperTuscans

La Crisi del Vino ha un cuore francese? Segnalo a tutti i lettori italiani questo bravissimo articolo appena pubblicato su Teatro Naturale. L'autore e' l'ineguagliato Franco Zilani. Leggete. E ringraziate Dio che ci siano i vini autoctoni onesti italici.

An Authoritative Voice Weighs in on Wine Prices

This man likes cheap wine, too As we all know, the prices of some Italian wines are inflated almost beyond belief. They're good, very very good, but who among us can justify a $200 bottle that isn't from a grand cru estate? I mean, a real grand cru from the real Bordeaux, not the faux-Bordeaux of Tuscany... A fervent believer in "the market" (a Platonic abstraction: time to pull out the bullshit-o-meter whenever one of these makes an appearance) might smugly say, "It's a case of supply and demand. The market works." Not necessarily. Over the past few months I've had conversations with wine retailers in Boston and New York, including one who specializes in premium Italians, and the bloom seems to have come off the rose when it comes to SuperTuscans and Gaja-type Barolos. "The collectors have bought all they'll need for a while, but there's still so much of it sitting out there," Roger Ormon of BLM Wines in Brookline, a suburb of Boston, emailed me. It may be a case of some people having more money than sense, of their being hyped and seduced into the imagined, georgic glamour of the vigneron. Yet what does Giacomo Tachis have to say about the prices of top-tier Italian wines? I found an article in the Italian site Wine Country dating from last December where the famous oenologist, credited with creating Sassicaia, Tignanello, etc., said that the crisis of the Italian wine industry has to blame overpricing as a major factor. "The wines I contribute to making are not that expensive when they come out of the cellar," referring to Sassicaia that costs 130 euros in wine shops and 200 euros in restaurants. "The appropriate price is around 30-40 euros a bottle....If I have to spend a fortune to buy a bottle, I don't buy it." At last, the voice of reason. Mr. Tachis' comment reminds me of a recent interview I read in Wine Spectator with the well-known TV chef and collaborator with the late Julia Child, Jacques Pepin. When asked how he took wine with his meals Pepin replied, "Preferably a lot of it and not too expensive [laughing]. In my culture, when I was a kid in France, we had wine on the table and that was the wine--it was usually red--that you had with your onion soup or your fish or your roast chicken....I've been married 40 years and I can't remember a meal where we didn't open a bottle of wine with dinner, sometimes two." [Fellow ivrogne!] As they used to say in those old American comedies with English characters, "RathER!"

Bordeaux-Style Wines in Italy: the Tasting

If you love--or hate--Italy's Bordeaux-style wines, especially the SuperTuscans, read this interesting article from "Aristide," our Veronese friend Giampiero Nadali.

Giampiero recently filed the report on an important event in his hometown of Verona. The focus of the meeting: the state of Bordeaux-style wines in Italy, many of which are among the most lauded and, high-priced, of all Italian wines. Whether this makes them truly superior is another issue. But they do represent an invaluable stage in the modernization and international recognition of the Italian wine industry.

Here is my translation of the second part of Giampiero’s report—the fun part, where he got to taste many of the celebrated wines for himself.

The two-day conference on “A Hundred Italian ‘Bordeaux’: Style, Elegance, Terroir” was held in the hall of the old granary of Villa Gritti. The hall was miraculously transformed from a meeting center to a tasting room in a very short time, and 137 different wines were available for tasting on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.

As you can see in the photo above, the attendees mobbed the tasting tables set up in the splendid garden, eager to try wines which, in many cases, were made of the most common international varieties (Cabernet and Merlot). Further, there was a “horizontal” tasting of 12 regions of Italy and, as intended by the organizers of the event, this was to show the tasters the value of Italy’s various terroirs as well as connect quality with price. Note that, if you wished to purchase all 137, it would cost 3,300 euros retail. This averages 24.10 euros a bottle (about $30), with the priciest brands including Sassacaia 2002 (100-130 euros), to Ornellaia 2002 (90-120 euros), all the way up to the astonishingly expensive Diesel Farm Rosso di Rosso 2000 (160-190 euros a bottle).

We provide some highlights of the tasting below; and at the end of the article, the entire list of wines offered at the degustazione.

What the Interested Parties Had to Say

First, some remarks and ruminations about the “Bordeaux idea.”

According to the preface of Les Vines de Bordeaux, “For most people in France and around the world, the word ‘Bordeaux’ spells quality…” Only Champagne has developed a similar, universally recognized style. Gigliola Bozzi Gaviglio, president of Vinarius, the wine retailers’ association, observed that this style is so entrenched that wine shops often present an Italian “Bordeaux” with the words “grown with the same grape varieties as a Bordeaux.” The problem is this: in Italy such wines haven’t produced a style, just brands.

Bozzi Gaviglio noted that, unlike most Italian wines, these omit or downplay the sense of “territory” [and eventually the notion of terroir itself takes a hit--Mondosapore] and the identification of the grapes used to make it. The producers’ intent has been to create individual identities to elevate their products. This is due, in part, to their non-adherence to standard denominations. They seek to make wines that conform to some “philosophy” or business purpose, and this tends to weaken the positioning of the entire denomination, not to mention the strength of the territory’s identity and appeal.

The producers aren’t entirely to blame, Bozzi Gaviglio added. The problem with the DOC system is that it is strictly regimented and doesn’t allow enough scope for individuality.

Aristide [Giampiero] observes that lawmakers are democratically elected and controlled by
citizens. We speak badly about politicians, forgetting that we elected them.
In other words, if the world of wine has bad legislation, it's not only a fault of politicians
(lawmakers), but also winemakers and people in the business—they are all
responsible for that.  When lobbying and favor-seeking at the regional and national
levels doesn’t produce the desired results, Italian winemakers like to portray themselves
as victims.  Instead, there needs to be a reform of the entire appellation system, with an
eye to the benefit of the consumer in Italy and abroad—and it should highlight the wide
range of territories and terroirs in Italy.  

Returning to the tasting, Aristide made a commitment to do a sampling of wines from the far north in Alto Adige all the way to Sicily. His goal: confirm the huge variety of the wines in all their excellence, with an eye to those costing a reasonable amount. The relative tranquility of the granary at Villa Gritti on early Saturday afternoon enabled him to do so pleasurably. The only fly in the ointment: there was ridiculously little Sassicaia for the masses of people attending the conference, and whenever a bottle was opened (only six of them over two days!), they were “vaporized” immediately.

Another disappointment: there were only five or six producers at the tasting tables. However, that’s not to take away from a lovely conference.

In the sampling of 22 wines tasted by Aristide (all indicated by an asterisk below), four were his particular favorites:

  • Loam 2002 DOC Alto Adige, Cantina Termeno (Alto Adige) Cuvée di Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot 18.000 bottiglie prodotte, prezzo in enoteca 20-25 Euro. (18,000 bottles produced, Italian retail price 20-25 euros)
  • Ronco dei Roseti 2000 DOC Colli Orientali del Friuli, Le Vigne di Zamó (Friuli Venezia Giulia) Cuvée di Merlot e Cabernet Franc 15.500 bottiglie prodotte, prezzo (price) in enoteca (in wineshop) 27-30 Euro.
  • Luna Selvatica 2003 DOC Colli Piacentini, La Tosa (Emilia e Romagna) Cuvée di Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot The producer announced a 2003 production of 5 tons/hectare on 2 hectares (5-6 acres), about a kilo of fruit per vine; 8.200 bottiglie prodotte, prezzo in enoteca 20-22 Euro.
  • Pupà Pepu 2000 IGT Colli Toscana Centrale, Bellini Roberto (Toscana) Cuvée di Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon 3 to 3.5 tons of fruit per hectare -- 5.000 bottiglie prodotte, prezzo in enoteca 46-55 Euro.

Here are all the wines at the tasting, by region:

VALLE D’AOSTA Vin du Prevot, Institut Agricole Régional

LOMBARDIA

Barbur, La Montina (*) Ca’ Verde, Ca’ Verde Colle Calvario, Castello di Grumello Deressi, Majolini Doglio, La Brugherata Falcone, La Prendina-Piona Giuliana C., La Boscaiola Messernero, Le Corne Nero d’Ombra, Mirabella San Carlo, Barone Pizzini San Giovannino, Tallarini Sebino rosso, Ricci Curbastro Solesine, Bellavista

VENETO

Belvedere, Cantine dei Colli Berici Braio, C. Colli Vicentini 360 Ruber Capite Bosco del Merlo Calaóne, Ca’ Orologio Camoi, Col Sandago Campo del Pra, Sartor Capo di Stato, Loredan Gasparini (*) Corpore, Villa Sandi Dogma Rosso, Sutto Due Santi, Vigneto Due Santi-Zonta Entusiasmo, Palazzetto Ardi Flammeo, Ca’ Lustra Franco Zanovello Fontana Masorin, Montelvini Fratta, Maculan (*) Gemola, Vignalta Hora Sexta, Mòsole Madégo, La Cappuccina Merlot Cabernet, Desmontà Il Massi, Villa Dal Ferro Lazzarini Nero d’Arcole, C. di San Bonifacio (*) Perseo, Valerio Zenato Polveriera, Piovene Presa IX, Montelvini Rosso dell’Abazia, Serafini Vidotto (*) Rosso di Corte, Corte Gardoni Rosso di Rosso, Diesel Farm (solo libro) Rosso Giunone, Monte Tondo Rovere Rosso, Ca’ Rovere Sansonina, La Sansonina Santomío, Montresor Speaia, Maculan Terra dei Rovi, Dal Maso Venegazzù, Loredan Gasparini Villa Capodilista, La Montecchia Vite Rossa, Ornella Molon Traverso

TRENTINO

Campi Sarni, Vallarom Castel S.Michele, Istituto agr. di San Michele (*) Fojaneghe, Bossi Fedrigotti Fratagrande, Pravis Fuggè, Poli Maso Le Viane, Lunelli Maso Toresella, Cavit Mori Vecio, Concilio Vini Quattro Vicariati, Cavit Rossoreale, CS di Mori San Leonardo, Guerrieri Gonzaga (*) Senteri, Cantina di Isera Tebro, Spagnolli Tre Cesure, Longariva

ALTO ADIGE

Arzio, Baron Di Pauli Castel Campan, Manincor Cornelius, Colterenzio Cor Römigberg, Lageder (*) Feld, E & N Geierber, Castel Schwanburg Istante, Franz Haas (*) Kirchegg, Hofstätter Loam, Cantina Tramin (*)

FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

Alture, Gaspare Buscemi Berengario, Zonin Braida Nuova, Borgo Conventi Carantan, Marco Felluga Cjarandon, Ronco dei Tassi Conte di Spessa, Pali Wines Faralta, Marina Danieli Metamorfosis, Primosic Montsclapade, Dorigo Picol Maggiore, Pali Wines Poncaia, Subida di Monte Progetto, Mangilli Red Branko, Branko Riserva Orzoni, Russiz Superiore Rivarossa, Schiopetto Rok, Pradìo Ronco dei Roseti, Le Vigne di Zamó (*) Rondon, Bennati Rosso Carpino, Il Carpino Sagrado Rosso, Castelvecchio Scuro, Scubla Tato, S. Elena Tiareblù, Livon Val di Mièz, Roncús Vertigo, Livio Felluga

EMILIA ROMAGNA

Luna Selvatica, La Tosa (*)

Montegirolo, SanPatrignano

Perticato, Il Poggiarello

Petroso, Vigneto delle Terre Rosse (*)

Stoppa, La Stoppa

Vinnalunga, Lamoretti

MARCHE

Pollenza, Il Pollenza (*)

TOSCANA

Arnione, Campo alla Sughera Campora, Casale Falchini Castello di Vicarello, Castello di Vicarello Ceppate, Terrabianca Cignale, Castello di Querceto (*) Desiderio, Avignonesi (*) Dulcamara, I Giusti & Zanza Excelsius, Castello Banfi (*) Guado al Melo, Michele Scienza Guado de’ Gemoli, Chiappini Le Cupole, Tenuta di Trinoro Lupicaia, Terriccio Magari, Ca’ Marcanda Millanni, La Cusona Mormoreto, Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nambrot, Tenuta di Ghizzano Ocra, La Cusona Ornellaia, Ornellaia Petra, Petra-Bellavista (*) Pupà Pepu, Bellini Roberto (*) Salamartano, Fattoria Montèllori Sassicaia, Incisa della Rocchetta (*) Sassobucato, Russo Saxa Calida, Poderi del Paradiso Sogno dell’Uva, Cennatoio

UMBRIA

Crovello, Poggio Bertaio Fobiano, La Carraia Outsider, Caprai

LAZIO

Le Poggère, Vaselli Madreselva, Casale del Giglio Vigna del Vassallo, Colle Picchioni

SICILIA

Burdese, Planeta (*) Magnifico, Calatrasi Majo S. Lorenzo, Miceli (*)

-------------------------------- Photo: outdoor buffet at Villa Gritti by Giampiero Nadali