Saturday, November 05, 2005

Piedmont Traditionalist: The Tongue Sings This is very unlike me. I have just this minute returned from a tasting of Cavallotto downtown at Chambers Street Wines. And here I am sharing with you, somewhat out of breath (if not exactly "breathlessly"), my impressions of the wines poured by Alfio Cavallotto, scion of the old Piedmontese wine-making family. (For the record, the affable young Alfio is the agronomist of the family's vineyards.) It was sort of a mini-vertical tasting: four of the six wines were Barolos, and three of them of the Bricco Boschis line. I tasted some of them several times. I'm sure I seemed a bit crazed to Alfio, not to mention a nuisance, but here's hoping this wee article will help Cavallotto a little. The tasting sheet says, "Cavallotto makes traditional Dolcetto, Freisa, and Barolo, with long fermentations and aging in large Slovenian oak, resulting in pure, structured and delicious wines." I would add that the wines are delightfully free of intrusive oak, which is one of the reasons I am completely off California wines. (It may be unfair, but there it is.) This allows the unalloyed quality of the fruit to come forth--which is not to say that the wines of Cavallotto are "fruit bombs," thank God. They were vinous, balanced wines above all. But more of that later. Here is a brief summary of all six wines, as they hit my palate, listed in ascending order of price and complexity. By the way, I liked all of them--some more than others of course. My ruminations follow. Dolcetto d'Alba, Vigna Scot, 2004 ($13.99 at Chambers Street Wines) light, easy to drink, a rather soft everyday wine (if you can get it on sale)...I bought a bottle of this to have with a nice sauteed chicken dish or as an aperitif Freisa Langhe, Bricco Boschis, 2003 ($15.99) good example of the wonderful, very drinkable Freisa grape, vaguely reminiscent of pinot noir--one of the lighter ones from California or New Zealand--with a slightly bitter tannic finish that bodes well for future development...less finesse than a Mascarolo Freisa, but equally apt for lighter dishes like chicken or gently sauteed tuna steaks Barolo, Bricco Boschis, 2000 ($44.99) as Alfio said, this is a soft and immediately drinkable Barolo, largely due to lighter tannins, delicious but, alas, too expensive for me to drink very often (it would be the best "house wine" you ever had, as good before dinner as with) Barolo, Bricco Boschis, 2001 ($47.99) strong, robust, excellent vin de garde with sharp tannins that will doubtless smooth out with age...and ageability is something that this wine has Barolo, Bricco Boschis, 1999 ($49.99) I have had this wine before, tasting it with a Conterno and a Giacosa, and this to my mind is the most beautiful and unassuming of them all...a bit of a pleasantly sweet finish, and a very long one, with wonderful walnutty tannins...despite my relative poverty as a humble schoolteacher, I had to buy a bottle of this for a special dinner for two...vinous and strong, yet a perfect accompaniment to virtually any meal that doesn't involve frutti di mare...yes, the tongue sang Barolo, Riserva Vignolo, 1999 ($61.99) wow...this wine is worth every penny and is as complex, long and elegant as wines that I've tasted (Giacosa, perhaps? Conterno?) that cost far more...tannins already are balanced, and I hesitate to liken this wine to this fruit or that fungus...yet if this isn't an inspiring example of the Piedmontese gout du terroir, nothing but not sweet or "opulent," this wine should be served on wonderful occasions with the best beef you can find What Have We Learned Here? Cavallotto wines strike me as honest, clean and restrained. Their power doesn't bomb you; it delights you in a way that you can't easily tire of. It's plain from the first sip that they are made to accompany food, and that they are for drinking and not simply tasting. Their balance and elegant vinosity are exemplary. Why can't more winemakers, including those from the Cavallottos' neck of the vine, discipline themselves to this infinitely pleasing end?


Here's a refreshing idea. A big-time wine expo featuring producers with excellent wines for 10 euros or less--WineLove. "Dedicated exclusively to the discovery of wines with an excellent price/quality ratio," this event will be held in Milan on November 19-20. WineLove's focus will be the always interesting--and sometimes sensational--wines made from local varieties, including frappato, nero d'avola, greco, cannonau, montepulciano, garganega, lagrein and lugana, to name just a few. These names tell you that most of the regions of the country will be represented, from south to north, and they reward the drinker with a true "world of flavors." (Hence our name, Mondo [world] sapore [flavor].) I have enjoyed the products of some of the exhibitors--very much and sometimes unto excess. (You can tell they're clean, honest wines because the hangovers are pretty mild.) Some favorites of mine at WineLove are Valle dell'Acate, whose frappato I like to call "the beaujolais of Sicily," so light and deliciously drinkable it is; Consorzio Viticoltori del Vulture, whose aglianico lines are among the best values anywhere in big, bold reds; and Melini, who prove that drinkable Chiantis of quality don't have to cost an arm and a leg, or two. This is a great concept. We need something like this in the USA--badly. So many of our wines are overpriced relative to the quality we can find in the products of other countries, yet I am sure there are good-quality American wines that have both extensive distribution and reasonable pricing (say, list price under $15). At present the best examples I can think of come from Washington State. But California? Nothing comes to mind. Maybe my reader (!) can help me out here. And maybe someone knows of a similar type of expo that takes place in the US. If so, send a comment. By the way, I find it curious that some Italian wine sites names themselves in English, even though all their communications are in italiano. WineLove is just one example. I found out about this event on Wine News, an assemblage of press releases--sometimes feature-story length and highly informative, despite their obvious agendas--which is all in Italian. If they really want to speak to the Anglophones of the world, they'd translate some of their stuff into English, because everyone knows how we hate learning foreign languages.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Conflitto nascosto del dibattito vitigni internazionali vs. autoctoni

Tante polemiche, tante fandonie sono scritte sui vitigni importati e quelli autoctoni. O su metodi di vinificazione bordolesi vs. le tradizioni immemori dell' Oenotria, ecc. Sono io il solo a pensare che il dibattito sia piuttosto disonesto, evasivo? Al mio parere--qui, al di la' dell'Atlantico, oppure al di qua (dipende, come sempre, dal punto di vista)--che c'e' un conflitto nascosto fra l'Italia settentrionale ricca e comandando i media e l'Italia meridionale, che rimane relativamente povera e distaccata ai canali di mass-media, cioe' alla grande distribuzione organizzata di notizie e pubbliche relazioni, ed e' anche oggidi' particolarmente lontana dai critici de cri. Io domando senza pretensione di sapere le risposte giuste e valide alla questione. Solo voglio lanciare una conversazione multicontinentale (che megalomania!) e aprire l'argomento su base culturale ed economica, la quale penso sia "l'epicentro" della questione. E' ancora caso del Mezzogiorno snobbato vs. il Nord piu' efficacemente "europeizzato"? The haves against the have nots? (E' sempre relativo, no? Non e' piu' l'epoca di Vittorini o di Danilo Dolci.) Fatemi sapere, amici, perche' mi metto a essere un po' stufo del parlare di vitigni ed enologia, che mi pare non sia la vera storia--ci manca la vera storia sotto la storia. L'Italia ha una bella crisi, certo, ma la crisi del vino non e' che un sintomo d'uno squilibrio tanto piu' serio. Al mio parere, lontano e ignorante che sono io. Rispondete! Anche voi Leghisti, e voi big dei media!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Traitor? My New House Wine Speaks French /// Traditore? Il mio nuovo vino di casa parla francese

I feel like quite the traitor. Here I am, always extolling the virtues of Italian wines--and drinking quite a few of them in the course of the average week. And here's me now, with a new case of this wonderful, gusty red (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre) from the Costieres de Nimes. What was it about this wine that caused me to abandon, if only sometimes and to a degree, my beloved wines of the Mezzogiorno? A fantastic combination of body, earthy rich flavors, adaptability to all kinds of food and, yes, cost: this terrific wine cost me only $7.99 a bottle, a steal considering its clean, straightforward style. This wine is light-years better than the notorious plonk that used to characterize wine of the Midi. And it shows that France can indeed compete on every level, including a sensational price/quality ratio, with anything from the New World. Vive le Midi!

Bordeaux-Style Wines in Italy: Times are Changing

International vs. Indigenous Varieties: What the Future Holds

Recently, in Verona, a conference billed “A Hundred Italian ‘Bordeaux’: Style, Elegance, Terroir” took place in the posh surroundings of the Villa Gritti. Among those attending were some of the superstars of Italian wine, including Prof. Attilio Scienza of the University of Milan; Giacomo Tachis, technical director of Antinoir and one of the forces behind the Supertuscans Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia; and Giampiero Nadali, alias Aristide, who reported this event at length on his respected blog.

This article is a loose translation—really a summary—of Giampiero’s detailed report. It will be followed by another posting, in which Giampiero detailed the tasting that was the climax of the gathering.

Globalization? Nothing New

Wine is, and has been, a business since Antiquity. Giuseppe Meregalli, President of an import company of the same name, explained that the négociants of Bordeaux played on an international stage two or more centuries ago and were instrumental in launching the Grand Cru classification system of 1855. The basis of that system was price: premiers crus were wines that customers were disposed to pay more for than for deuxièmes and so on. The merchants knew their markets well, had vision and were enterprising. There was precious little finance involved, zero marketing and no mass media, it goes without saying.

Gigliola Bozzi Gaviglio, President of Vinarius, the association of Italian wine retailers, explained that the strength of Bordeaux wines rests in the fact that they have a well-known and easily recognized style, based on the uniqueness and value of the terroir. This style is reinforced by the ability of the vineyard owners to focus all their efforts and their reputation on “flagship wines” as brands developed with the négociants. (She shied away from actually saying it, but the word we use in our house is “marketing”!)

One less wholesome aspect of the Bordeaux model, according to Aristide, is investment in prestige wines, which has distorting effects on the market.

“No Conflict between International and ‘Local’ Varieties,” Claims Scienza

Prof. Scienza declared, “There is no conflict between the maximum expression of ‘international’ varieties planted in Italy and the new faction promoting ‘local’ varieties. There is, rather, the need to invest in research and development of new varieties centered on the hybridization of Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet, Merlot) and ‘national’ varieties so that new wines of Italian style can be created.”

Meanwhile, there’s Giacomo Tachis. Many indeed believe that he is the father of the Supertuscans, Sassicaia the first and still the most famous of them all; and this “Bordelais” wine is among those which altered and revitalized Italian wine production, especially in Tuscany itself. “For now and possibly in the future, the renown of a wine is principally due to its variety, its vitigno. But it should be remembered that only in certain defined regions and localities does a grape reveal its ‘true’ style, with qualities that justify the renown. In other words, the same variety never produces identical wines in different places…”

The moment has arrived to proceed forthrightly ahead: to research and innovate with hybrids that can express the unique character of Italian terroirs. Now that we have established a certain reputation for quality on the international markets, there now seems to be a demand for stylistic alternatives that aren’t completely “made in France,” such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia and also the San Leonardos and Supertuscans. These are now competing with the premium wines made from indigenous grapes, and it is the time to introduce new varieties that are capable of expressing the best of Italian agronomy and wine know-how, and which can be united with Italy’s entrepreneurial spirit and the huge range of terroirs available throughout the country. The lesson of Bordeaux is there for us, again as articulated by Giacomo Tachis:

Bordeaux has taught the world. So much so that the emerging wine nations—Chile, Argentina, California, Australia, South Africa—have taken account of Bordeaux not just technically but in their production and commercial philosophy. Europe is Europe, and the heart of the European wine world remains France, particularly as it is expressed in Bordeaux. America, Australia and the new countries produce, and will continue to produce, excellent wines. But they don’t have the culture, art, and literature of Europe (especially the parts that border Italy and communicate with Italy). Our wine is produced and sold with this value added.”

Photo by Giampiero Nadali