Ohio in the winter can be a sad and dismal place. Grey skies, flat in many areas, littered with factories and mills that once helped to build America but which now rest in the autumn of their years. How can one make the life there a better experience? None better than to invite a carload of Italian winemakers to tour the countryside city to city with wine tasting showcases. It seemed an improbable feat, but the past four days, that is what I have experienced. Crammed into cars from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati with our crew of Italians and their distributor salespeople and managers.
Cleveland, I think I have already mentioned. Columbus I haven’t. One note of caution: Be very careful when ordering shellfish in a land locked zone. And be even more careful if you desire Calamari. You never know what you might get. You might be better off with hot dogs, apparently. That said, we steered clear of squid and their alternatives, and stayed on a tight regimen of wine, work and laughter. The people on the trip I had never met; once again Italy produces not only great wine but great characters. And if not Italy all the time, the wine business can also create their own players who are attracted to the Italian experience like metal shavings to a magnet.
These past few days could fill at least two books with stories of people. For now I’d like to profile one of them.
Barone Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino of Castello Sonnino in Montespertoli is one of those people you meet that when you do you know you have met an original. Descended from a long line of Tuscans, cardinals, politicians and other scoundrels, my sense is that the Barone was a very free spirit in his youth. Actually he still seems to be. But something drew him back to the family estate and wine. His wines are very nice.
Some notes about the Baron and his wines:
• He hired Stefano Chioccioli some years ago, who worked with Sonnino until a few years ago. The Ancellotta grape was resurrected in the old vineyards and is being blended into one of the wines on the estate, an IGT called Cantinino.
• The estate is in the Chianti Montespertoli area. The Riserva Chianti is the hallmark wine. How can I say this? The Barone actually sells it best. He noted that before the folks were growing grapes and making wine in the Chianti Classico zone, Montespertoli had been long before established. “There was nothing out there except for dry land and a bunch of wild donkeys.” Indeed, folks who claim the Classico zone to be the classic area have a stake in that claim. But it doesn’t mean much to the Barone. I’m with him.
• His patient wife, Caterina, designs all the labels as well as many other famous wine labels in Italy. Like I said, she is patient and very talented.
• He makes two kinds of Vin Santo. They are deeply colored and unctuous. Indescribably delicious and wonderful.
• After three days of standing behind a table, at the end of that time with only minutes to go, 50ish lady steps up and announces she is a “blogger.” She had been getting her drink on and was touting her status as a person who would only write about “things she only liked, not White Zinfandel, which didn’t need her help.” She must have been important. I admit it was so tragically comic that even though I wanted to rescue the Barone, the only thing I could do was stand 10 feet behind the “blogger” and stick my tongue out so that the Barone could only see me. To his credit he never broke his stride, even though later at dinner he excoriated me (in only the best way) for being an “evil bastard.”
• The Barone looks like a cross between Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells, but with a much better sense of Humor than Hemingway and a better capacity for liquor than Wells.
• Some of his ancient relatives were in the clergy, cardinals. I think he referred to them politely as “scoundrels.”
• His Grandfather was a politician. He referenced him more acutely, referencing his questionable circumstances of birth.
• There is more; like I said, a book. For now that will have to suffice.
Grazie tanti, Barone!
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