It doesn’t seem like eight years has passed since we entered the new millennium in 2001, but it has. It was the beginning of a very difficult time; my wife Liz passed away in Feb 2001, the political process started to change and the world changed with it. September 11 showed up on the world’s doorstep, and many of us have been taking it one day at a time, hoping for better days to come.
As I was jogging this evening by the high school, a speaker announced over the stadium address system, that there were refreshments in the concession stand. He described the available items: candy, popcorn, hotdogs, and then he said three little words, “for your pleasure.” It sounded like a throwback in time when things were so much simpler and in its uncomplicated message I thought back over the last 40 years and what some of our cinematic dreamers and Italian wine visionaries thought the world would be like in 2001. And while it sure wasn’t all that they projected in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it sure has been a heck of a trip. So, at this time I’d like to jump into the WABAC machine, back to 2001 and see what wines I would have predicted for the past, here in the safety of the future. Of course the wines are from the Italian trail, and beyond.
Ever since the time I attempted to simultaneously sell a Tuscan Novello and a Vernaccia di Serrapatrona, that would have been about this time in 1984, I have wondered why Italian wines chose me. Not just me, but for some of the hard stuff, I sure have had my share of those assignments. Driving around with a delivery van full of baby Sangiovese alongside a quirky, dry, foamy red wine made by a madman in the hills of the Marche. What was I thinking then? Even now it sounds bizarre. Don Quixote, only this time we weren’t looking for windmills. We were looking for space stations for these special travelers. And in honor of those two wines, in the 2001 of our little story here, we have an homage: Novello Di Ascoli, a modern wine about reincarbonation.
Chianti: 2001 was a little project that went beyond Chianti 2000. I’m not sure if people realize the first Italian in space was Sangiovese. A little known experiment resulted in growing and harvesting the grapes aboard the International space station. Limited release, only about 20 cases, hydroponically grown. It was intended to test the ideas of extra-terroirestrial winegrowing. It is an amazing red wine, without the pull of gravity and ratings. No, only the influence of the astro-agronomist-winemaker, an American of Italian descent. It challenges the limitations of the Italian wine trail that we terrestrials put on it. Buckminster Fuller said, “Whatever nature lets you do is natural.” I wish all of you could have tried it with me. But alas, a quick trip to Washington D.C., some time ago, was the only opportunity any of us will have. But there will be more. Watch for a sparkling wine to come, made in zero gravity, called Zero-Zero. No dirt on their space-boots, but lots of ardent advances orbiting above us.
Down in the Cilento National Park, there is a colony of Italians who speak Esperanto. They escaped the area around Vesuvius many years ago and decided to leave behind their dialect. But they took their grapes with them and started making a red wine for the new millennium, to coalesce their past with their future. It is a cult wine on the islands around Naples and further south. I have only seen and had it once, from a private cellar in Panarea. The wine reminded me of the reds made by Galardi. I have heard people say they have traded two bottles of Le Pin for one bottle of “Vulkano” Campania Ruga. I have tried both wines. I would say two bottles of Le Pin for one from the Esperantani’s is a fair deal.
About 11 years ago, in a place near Colfiorito, there was a terrible earthquake. When they got to digging out some of the buildings, rescue workers found a lab book from a vineyardist, describing a project code-named “Il Grifi”. The project, like its name, had as its goal to combine three grapes to make a new wine. Here the vineyardist had been researching, via recombinant DNA, the creation of a wine that had as its parents, Sangiovese, Sagrantino and Montepulciano. And yes, for many years in Umbria and the Marche, winemakers have blended these grapes together to make various wines. William Sylvester, who starred in the Stanley Kubrick film, had made a film in Italy and was fascinated with this area and with wine. So he funded this little known experimentalist. Italy loves to resuscitate ancient things: statues, grapes, legends. In this case, as we headed back to 2001, we discovered that the wine had finally been made, in minute quantities. An amazing wine, combining the ephemeral verve of Sangiovese, the tannic and alcoholic power of the Sagrantino and the lubriciousness of the Montepulciano. Joy upon joy, an almost perfect wine in time for the new age. But alas, only one year was made and only 1113 bottles. They were mostly served at an autumn Sagra in Colfiorito for the special red potato named after the area, which makes the most wonderful base for the local gnocchi. The wine disappeared into memory, along with the best gnocchi I had ever had. The wine? Sangrapulciano.
Two wines, Navicella and Passeggiata, were “good soul” efforts to make right the promise to reach the moon before the end of the decade. In the Italian’s efforts, though, it managed to arrive about 30 years later. End of decade, end of century, end of millennium, hey it’s only time, no?
Navicella was the wine intended for the first course, something from the aquaculture tanks. Passeggiata was created for the second stage, more experimental than the first wine. It was a sci-fi way of twinning tradition (Navicella) with innovation (Passeggiata) and for those who experienced the wine, I've been told it was a magical. Again, this was eight years ago when the Italians were embracing the next big thing. Now we are earthbound again, arguing this time over tradition vs. innovation. There are a few of these wines available on the auction circuits. A large enological school in Northeastern Italy was in incubating site for these wines. The Lega Nord, and a then unknown party operative, put an end to it. That little known operative would someday, in the future, join with Berlusconi and attempt to influence events in a larger and more important wine producing region, with near cataclysmic results.
Out last find caused a little flap among the retro-futurists in the room. Paraspruzzi was proposed to bridge the workers in the fields, those who tromp through the primal slime in their waders, with the elevated shapers of fashion. Originally the marketers wanted to call it “Chiaccerone”. Another on the board wanted to name it “Lo Scroccone”. But it was felt that normal wine lovers wouldn’t know how to pronounce it. Not that Paraspruzzi is that easy, but it sounded like the celebrity photographers who were known to frequent all the “in” places looking for those same nine beautiful people to snap up.
This was actually one of the most successful of the wines; it had a run of three vintages. Later as it was being packaged to sell to one of the large Euro-spirit-lux corporations, there were a string of lawsuits. As it turned out, everyone spent more on lawyers than the plan could ever return in ten years, so the project was jettisoned. A real shame, because the wine had a bona fide grip on the cognoscenti of the Italian wine industry. The bloggers never found out about it, this was buried deep in Puglia under the cover of an ancient Masseria. The remaining wine fetches a pretty Euro.
There lies my time and space odyssey of 2001, following the wines of the future back to the past. Submitted for your pleasure.