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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Mystery of Italian Wine

Recently I spent a day with some of the brightest mystery writers in America. Long a fan of the Judge Dee series and the Inspector Montalbano mystery series (tip of the hat to Eric Asimov, who turned me on to them), I admit Italian wine can be a bit of a whodunit as well. Mystery writers understand setting and plot better than most. While there is no shortage of either in the Italian landscape, better writing about Italy and Italian wines is getting harder to sort out among the constant noise of the internets.


Much of the day focused on the technique of writing a mystery, although the ideas these writers shared are applicable to other kinds of writing. Especially interesting was a discussion about the clich├ęs we all overuse.

Because of the thoughts provoked in the seminar and the business of the season, I am thinking more deeply about what I want to put up on this blog in 2014. Do you really need to see all the food I eat? Does it really matter which virtually unobtainable rarity I just cracked open? Doesn’t James Suckling or Antonio Galloni do that so much better?

Many of us in the eno-blogosphere (and beyond) fall prey to our own particular set of crutch phrases. How many times have you noticed when someone uses a phrase one time too many to describe a wine or a food, things like - you name it - scrumptious, awesome, or any number of worn-out phrases.

One of the writers advised, “Get rid of ‘as you know’ and ‘if you remember.’” Is there a phrase you use, or a series of clutch words you use, that you fall on when describing a wine or a feeling? Often “we are all just prisoners here of our own device."

Look at what you are writing. Read it aloud. To yourself.” This is advice many of us bloggers need to take, now.

Many wine bloggers have burned out, and we are recycling the same old points of view, the same themes, the same phrases. Maybe it’s time to hang it up and go back to the day job? Or maybe it’s time to polish the craft and not take for granted that one can just throw something up on a blog. How about one’s readers? Aren’t they worth more than a retelling of the same old same crap?

Charlaine Harris gave the best advice: “When in doubt, kill someone.”

I admit, I’m guilty. Writing is work, not just a free-form stream of consciousness whereby one has license to tell the world one’s every unedited thought. How about it, fellow bloggers? Have you said the same thing one (or more) times too many? Are you running out of creative ways to color your world for your readers? For yourself?

Harris nailed one possible direction for this blog in 2014.“Fiction just makes it all more interesting. Truth is so boring.” Really, so much of what I read is enhanced by someone’s imaginings. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. It may not be the truth. But it may be more interesting.

As for the mystery of Italian wine, lately some of the fog has lifted. But every time I think I get a handle on it, another perplexing anomaly surfaces. I’m okay with that, but in my day job, the task of trying to make something that can be very complicated into something easily explainable and understandable is still a big order.

Some of the Italian wine mysteries that still intrigue and engage me:

Sicily – The more I delve into Sicily, the deeper I go. Or rather, the darker I go. The understanding of Sicilian wine is very similar to reading an Inspector Montalbano mystery. There is a similar amount of intrigue and confusion, but the final result is much more pleasant. Nobody dies, and everyone gets a better glass of wine.

Adriatic whites – Years ago, most Italian white wines were the same. They were darkly colored, oxidized, and they all tasted the same (kind of where many of the orange wines are today). In earlier times, we had Verdicchio and Trebbiano. And when things got interesting, oak-aged wines came into style. Now we have all manner of indigenous whites, from Pecorino to Coccocciola to Fiano, from strains of Verdicchio to Chardonnay, and even the humble Trebbiano. Now one can find the wines in stainless steel, concrete, oak, small and large, amphora, concrete eggs, open top fermenters. Modern, ancient, any number of styles abound. The only mystery is finding the ones that taste good to you. There is no lack of choices. One can be a serial lover of the white wines from the Adriatic, from the Marche to Apulia.

Red wines of the Veneto – Often, it seemed, one could rarely find a decent Amarone. What we thought was good wine was really wine made from shriveled grapes that spoiled from too much moisture. They weren’t passito, they were rotten. Now to taste an Amarone is to have a wider bandwidth of styles, from Allegrini to Quintarelli. Do you like the heady, full-throttle wines of Romano Dal Forno? Fork over the cash and have an orgy of pleasure. If not, grab a bottle of Allegrini and feed your craving for power, alcohol and sugar. Want to high roll? Quintarelli is priced for the select few, and the wine is a rare pleasure. For the rest of us, there are all manner of small producers making rich wines full of expression and depth. Here is where some of the last great values for lay-away red wines reside in Italy.

Brunello – This category is one giant mystery…this one is for our Conan Doyles or Agatha Christies. Or to quote a new friend, Reed Farrel Coleman, “You look like shit, man.” Yes, our pal Brunello has been is a scruffle or two lately.


Way too long and not nearly edited well enough – but as I told a friend the other day “It's not a column in the NYT, it's a blog.”  My editor will look this over, "as I know," and get with me to clean it up.



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

2 comments:

  1. My dear friend, YOU are a mystery and a dear one at that...and I only have one word to describe you: Surprise!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just a suggestion, amico. You could pick up that Calabrian stories thread that you left dangling.

    ReplyDelete