Thursday, July 09, 2009

DOCG Misfits

The recent awarding of a DOCG (or was it 2 DOCG’s?) for Prosecco started it all off. I got thinking that there are several wines that have received the DOCG status, that, to me, seem ill fitting. Seeing as I started with Prosecco, let’s start there, shall we?

Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani. Is it one DOCG or is it two? Here we have a classic case of al’Italiana, confusion right from the onset. Most likely it was a political decision, and seeing as we are in Luca Zaia’s backyard, all the more reason for a politician to decide what’s best for the farmers. Good old Dr. Zaia.

I could understand Conegliano Valdobbiadene a little better than Colli Asolani, but really, is there any Prosecco worthy of a DOCG? If there was, perhaps we might want to consider reserving it for wines that come from the Cartizze, a small and revered spot which is the heart and soul of Prosecco. Maybe a Cartizze would be a laudable rival to one of the great Italian sparkling wines, Franciacorta. But, no, that wasn’t the solution. Why recognize a lion when there are so many asses braying for attention. Let’s give it to them all. But just one problem, say some of the producers. The new law will restrict production, forcing higher prices. Perfect timing for a world where the popularity of Champagne plummets daily.

The reality is, there will be less Prosecco DOCG (or Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani as the politicians have deigned to call it, making it even more confusing) and there will also be a Prosecco DOC. Great. That’s probably what they should have done to Chianti and Chianti Classico, but that’s another paragraph. I wouldn’t want to be a Prosecco producer right now. The folks in Trentino must be having a gay old time with this one.

A couple of whites (not the only ones, by the way) that I find hard to imagine being DOCG-worthy: Albana di Romagna. What in heaven’s name allowed that to happen? It’s a fine wine to have when one is in the area, but really, is it on the same par as a Fiano or a Gavi? I think not. I tried to grok the wine, and as early as the mid 1980’s I was on to it, looking for every example I could find to determine the mystique of this wine. But, like Galestro, it fell short of fabulous and I couldn’t figure out why the Italian authorities thought this wine worthy of a DOCG. So I chalked it up to a brilliant political maneuver by the communists of the region. I am surprised they haven’t gotten a DOCG for Lambrusco yet.

The other white, I am sorry to say, is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I know, I know, Michelangelo, is said to have described the wine he loved and wrote poetry as one that "kisses, licks, bites, pinches and stings". In all the many times I have drunk Vernaccia from San Gimignano I can attest to four out of the five qualities. But kissing? Rarely. Sting, yes. Bites, yes. Pinches, yes. Even licks. But no smooch fest is Vernaccia. So it was given the DOCG for the respect that one gives to an early white DOC? That’s like saying let’s give the part in a new movie to the old star even though the role calls for a younger person. Vernaccia is a minor player in an operetta. Not Puccini and La Boheme or Madam Butterfly or Tosca. No. Not. Ever. Quel dommage.

While we are rampaging through the Tuscan countryside, let’s tackle Chianti. First, let me be clear. Chianti Classico has a right to the claim of DOCG. Absolutely. But plain vanilla, made in an industrial manner straight Chianti? In Fiasco? What’s up with that? Other than appearing to be totally wrong and sending a very off beam message, it isn’t likely that the powers that be in Italy will ever rescind the DOCG for plain vanilla Chianti. But the whole legitimacy of the Chianti Classico, and even the sub regions, Rufina et al, is compromised precariously. Guilt by association. Hard to keep staying alive. I reckon the lesson that the folks in Bordeaux are learning once again ( the hard way) are not comprehended by their Italian cousins in Tuscany. Might as well be another planet. It too is a shame, because as the world fine wine market is melting down, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, the Italians are more interested in their August vacations than the 4th quarter of 2009. Bordeaux is failing and with more revelations to come. Tuscany, well they are waiting in line to get a towel and an umbrella and a beach chair. Bless their hearts.

Last one- Bardolino Superiore. Now I like Bardolino and I love the Chiaretto. But the wine is a romp, a fun time, a fast ride with the windows down. Bardolino is a hot date with a cute blond in a mini. But there is no gravitas attached to it. Bardolino is a summer affair, while the faithful spouse, let’s call her Amarone, sits at home and waits. And feeds the kids. And is full of character. Yes, Bardolino is fine as a DOC, but no “G’, no “G”. Ah gee.

It is July and I’m entering that period where the sun beats down on my head and funny ideas emerge. But the Italians have me beat with their misfit decisions about which wines should and shouldn’t be the standard bearers for the country. Greed, politics, back room haggling, deals made in smoky chambers, in a word, politics.

Like I said, quel dommage.





6 comments:

Hande said...

Oh, you are so right! I have to shake my head so often here that I am afraid will get Parkinson soon. Every tasting the same problem, trying to clear my guests' notions on Chianti - and no one is to blame other than the Italians themselves. And when I hear, every so often, "Italians wines are actually better than French, but the French have better marketing", I just have to think "so if you know what the problem is, why don't you do something about it?". Sigh. Or, gee.

Burde.it said...

hi alfonso!
I agree with you on almost everything but I have to point out that vernaccia in the last five years has been totally transformed by the Concortium and nowadays It's easier to find good and even fantastic Vernaccia di San Gimignanon and they are trying to divide the DOGG area in sub-regions. Modern style Vernaccia like Panizzi, Mattia Barzaghi, traditional lika San Quirico or Guicciardini Strozzi or Falchini, organics wines like La Castellaccia and many others. Really things are changiong quickly!
And for Albana at least all the passito are worthy the DOCG...

tom hyland said...

Alfonso:

Your ideas aren't "funny." They makes a lot of sense. Remember when DOCG pretty much meant the best wines of Italy, such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino? Those days seem like a distant memory.

I do think that a few newly DOCG designated wines over the past decade, such as Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino are worthy, but too many others have come about because local producers want the prestige of that little neck band. Well, I want a million dollars, but I can't get it simply because I want it- I have to earn it!

Do Bianchi said...

Good ol' Dr. Zaius. You gotta love him...

The Prosecco DOCG is indeed laughable as you point out. But the Prosecco producers I've talked to are for the most part behind it. The new designation, they say, helps to protect them from an already bad situation: the fact that the Italian government had allowed producers outside of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano to label their wines at Prosecco had already done a lot of damage to the appellation and should have never been allowed. The DOCG, in my understanding, was a last-ditch attempt to stop further damage. But what's really disconcerting is how the price of Prosecco will go up now because the yields are now required to be lower! A real shot in the foot, Dr. Zaius! Especially for those of us on this side of the pond who need to sell the wine: just when Prosecco was becoming a household word... oy...

Great post and great discussion thread...

Mattie John Bamman said...

I was thinking the same thing as J at Do Bianchi. The New York Times reported that 60% of all Prosecco is produced outside of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano back in February. It seems like there has to be a better way though, especially if it jacks the price on a product that I appreciated for being good AND cheap.

Live From Tuscany said...

From someone living in Tuscany I can attest that it is just another example... back room politics and payoffs rule pretty much every sector of business, why should the wine world be any different? You find this behavior anywhere you find a money making proposition in Italy. And yet, as Alfonso pointed out, in the end they usually shoot themselves in the foot chasing after the dolce vita.

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