Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wine That Lives On

I started out to write about a trip I took to Galveston, and a wine that changed my life, the 1964 Monfortino. But as often happens when I am gathering my images, a sign appears and we are on another road to Alba.

It happened once, many moons ago; we were on our way there by way of Novara. They make wine from Nebbiolo grapes there as well, and we were going to visit a tartufaio, or truffle hunter. He was a round, jolly man and we met him in a local cantina.

OK, I cannot go any further until I get this little piece of business taken care of. A colleague handed me the latest Wine Advocate and asked me if we had any wines in there. There were some pages about the 2004 Barolo inside and he wanted to know if we had any offering available. I scanned quickly and saw so many of the usual names, when I came to Giacosa. The Rocche del Falletto 2004 had been given a 99. I remarked to my colleague that the 2004 Giacosa was in there but we still had some 2001 and 2003 available. But at US $180 plus (I don’t even want to think about the 2004 price) it and all of those highly rated wines have become a trophies for people who aren’t in the wine business.

I walked into my little wine room to talk it over with the bottles inside. Many of the wines have been there for some time and so the spirits of the winemakers frequently hover and we have this little chat about the state of things as they are now. Luigi Pira sits on the shelf with an ancient bottle of d'Yquem, while an expired bottle of Marylyn Monroe’s Chardonnay lingers and livens up the bin with her sad little smile. So much tragedy on that row between Pira and Monroe, forget that in 1959 d'Yquem was just happy to get a harvest after the disasters of 1956, 1957 and the lackluster 1958. Pira, it had been said, was depressed and 1980, a harvest of misery, was the coup de grâce.

So what is the use of a score unless there is some music that comes from it? If I hear another winemaker tell me what Parker gave his wine, what am I gonna do? Nothing. But I sure would like a way to tell them, abbastanza, I am not the person who will or can buy the 95 point wine anymore. I only can afford wine made by dead people.
Take that 1974 VINO VINO VINO VINO, bottled to commemorate the 20th harvest of the Cantine Sociale dei Colli Novaresi. Signed by the contributing growers, what pride they show in their signatures. A 90 point wine, then? Who cares? Most of them are dead and rid of us, but that little US$7 bottle of wine lives on.

Luciano de Giacomi of Cascine Drago was a hard crust of a man. But he had a soft, warm inside. The archetypical serious Italian, and the founder of the Order of the Knights of the Truffle and Wines of Alba. He was over educated for the world he found himself in. But there he was, in his cellar with his factor, Barone Armando de Rham, taking new wine out of old barrels to teach the young acolytes about Nebbiolo. I remember more from that afternoon than from a month of reading reviews. In fact I remember nothing from reading reviews. Niente.

All I want is the music inside the bottle. I don’t want to know that your winery is carbon neutral, but you take your private jet to France every year to pick French barrels, which you replace yearly. That's not a carbon-neutral imprint, that's a McMansion floor plan. What kind of shadow does this cast? It's the Hummer school of wine, and they have the big, bad wine reviews to gas them up and send them scurrying from city to city, recanting their narcissistic-cum-artisanal stories of how great they are. Huh?

That's not how the old dead guys taught me in Italy. We went to lunch, yes, and without cell phones. So maybe, once in a while we headed down little dirt roads in fast Maseratis, but all with respect to the localita’ of it all.

What did they do to me? Did they turn me into the mean old men they were? Or did they inoculate me with their un-steroided Nebbiolo? Delicate? Yes. Light in color and not ashamed of it? Yes. And if we had Dolcetto, it tasted and cost like Dolcetto, not some œuvre-oaked, muscle-ripped, winner-take-all winegasm, for the 1% who can afford it.

Yeah, I've gone deep-end-of-the-road on this one. You know the one, it’s a little out of town, and on the right there is this little cemetery filled with the souls of winemaking past. And from time to time they “call” on me to ask how things are going these days.

And I tell them, at my house, it goes well. As do their wines.

Buon Anima ~ Luciano e Armando
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