Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alessandro Masnaghetti's Mission to Chart the Greatest Barolo Vineyards

The hierarchies of the great wines of the Langhe are still a mystery to me. After 40+ years, I look over the panorama and am baffled over the process of how specific wines of Barolo and Barbaresco came to be regarded by experts, enthusiasts and Italian wine lovers. I posed this quandary earlier this week on Antonio Galloni’s Vinous site and there ensued some lively discussions. But as I pushed away from the table, I felt unsatiated. How is it after all these years, I still struggle to understand what is arguably the greatest red wine region in Italy, if not the world? I’ve been there countless times, walked the hills, met the players, and still I cannot explain, in a simple manner, what is going on in the Langhe to a young wine lover. As one in the industry there is a whole new classroom of students and salespeople thirsting for guidance. I feel we must find some way to point them in a direction. The next generation deserves that, at the very least.

In the past, people have tried to map the great vineyards of the Langhe. Renato Ratti’s was the one we used for many years. Burton Anderson gave it a try as well. And countless regional Italian pamphlets and booklets tried to organize the vineyards of the Langhe. One of the best one in recent times is A Wine Atlas of the Langhe. Still,  the concentration of the area and the Italian sensibility to endlessly discuss things has mired the process.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

You Can't Go Home Again

“Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.”  -Thomas Wolfe

The past few days in New York, walking paths I used to walk when I was 23 and New York was a much older place. Bleeker Street in January, it couldn’t get any direr for me. Walking past the Chelsea Hotel on my way to work, looking at the plaques of the dead writers, many who never made it to 40. At 23, that was almost half a lifetime away, but the winter of ’75 was a bitter halfway point.

Today on Bleeker Street, it was bright and breezy, a perfect 80°F, just the day for the last of the rosé wines, a Donnas from the Valle d’Aoste and a Rossese Rosé from Liguria. Add two glasses of Trebbiano Spoletino to go with the artichokes alla giudia for good measure. Almost 40 years later, New York is manageable. But as Thomas Wolfe said all those years ago, you can’t go home again. Not to New York. Not to California.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Canaiolo’s tale of love lost

From the dies canulares storybook

It had been a brutally hot summer. Sangiovese came up to me and announced, “I can’t take it here anymore with you. There’s too much tradition, it’s too provincial and it’s just too damn hot. I’m heading to the coast to live with Cabernet. I need someone strong and vibrant, and I need to feel the cool sea breeze between my leaves.” And just like that, she was out of my life.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Knowing Your Place

The social hierarchy of vines

Among the many hundreds of Italian vines there is a pecking order. Some are more important than others. Often, the ones in power don’t shy away from letting the subjacent ones know who is on top.

In Italy, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are the Chairman and the CEO. But not just any Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. The Nebbiolo must come from the Langhe, preferably Barolo or Barbaresco. And Sangiovese, while prolific, must be from the right neighborhood, Montalcino. Everywhere else is the other side of the tracks.

If you are Montepulciano or Nero d’Avola, what are the chances you’ll make it to the ruling class? You might have breeding and pedigree, but location is paramount. You have to come from the right place. And knowing one’s place in Italy’s viticultural society is vital to one’s status.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ferragosto 2013: What I'm drinking

Lighting the fire balloon at Ferragosto
Many Italians have spent the day at the beach, in mirthful play. Back home, work proceeds. It’s hot in Texas and many people have put aside leisure for the responsibilities of ambition. Some must work so others may play. So it goes. But even after a long day in the trenches, one must recharge and re-balance the wheels of life, yes?

My choice to get me on the right path is this little red wine I found from Tuscany. It is a bit of a conundrum to me, because when I saw the grape varieties and the ownership, my pre-conception lever was pulled.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Breaking the Code of Silence on Italian Wine

Echoes from the archives  - posted 1/10/13

From the “Om mani padme om-erta” dept.

The single most asked question I get, on a regular basis, is still “How do I figure out Italian wines?” I have to deal with it in work, on this blog, in educational situations, in sales, and in almost any situation I get into when the subject of Italian wines is brought up among normal people. I say normal, because in the wine geek world, those folks are more interested in how many DOCG’s there are or the difference between Cannubi and Bussia. But that’s rarified air for folks who are just trying to unlock the key to understanding Italian wine for their purposes, those being immediate drinking pleasure. So this isn’t an academic exercise, although many folks in that arena struggle with this as well. Maybe that’s why the book, Italian Wine for Dummies, is the one many of us recommend to folks who are trying to simply sort it out.

But there has to be an even simpler answer. Not everyone is going to read a book. Too bad we can’t go the route that Mimmo Siclari chose, selling cassettes of Calabrian crime songs from the rear of his car. And as risky as that was, and it was, much more of a risk than I am attempting, the stakes are even higher with regards to cracking the code on Italian wine.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Bad children in the seat behind me in the plane

Sometimes it just seems things aren’t meant to work out exactly like one wants them to. I have this propensity to attract bad behavior on an airplane. Children behind me tap drum solos on their tray tables, while the sweaty, balding, skin-flaking guy in front of me puts his seat back as far as he can, when no one else on the plane is reclining their seat. I’m lucky that way.

Monday, August 05, 2013

What to Drink When Italy Takes a Vacation

Great Italian wines for everyday enjoyment (and one special occasion wine)

It’s August and I’m on a plane to Indianapolis. I had a brief weekend layover in Dallas from a week in Orlando. I’m surrounded by heat, humidity and ambition. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away and in another time zone, Italians and other fortunate ones have taken the month off. The government in Italy is in shambles, the government in America is in gridlock and the stock market is set to wobble on its axis. I’m up before the sun rises, but in Italy folks are walking back from the beach, getting ready for a long, leisurely lunch.

I imagine them in shorts and swim suits. The sun is warm, but the breeze off the water cools the skin. Somewhere on the coast (we are more in the south than in the north) fishermen have brought in the fresh catch. There are any number of tasty crustaceans, some small fish for frying and some medium sized fish, sweet meat and ready for the human participants who have planned a civilized afternoon with their carcasses. In Italy, for a fish the afterlife is as good as what preceded it, provided the chef is caring and intuitive.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Running a little behind on my regular posting - lots of travel and not enough time to gather thoughts. A post is forthcoming, just a little later than usual. Thanks for reading...

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Are “The Best Italian Wines” the Best We Can Do?

I thought we might have dodged the bullet. You know, the one whereby all the wines of the country are judged by a few? France has had that moment a time or two. Lately it’s been in China, where Lafite ruled. Now it’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s turn.

Italy, ah Italy, land of wine for the everyday person. Maybe in Italy. But in the rest of the world, has Italy managed to escape the curse of the wine snob?

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