Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Talento’ed and Gifted

While the Champagne region widens their premium appellation by annexing land, the Italians hold council in boardrooms and bedrooms. Over a cup of coffee or a parting shot of amaro, the Italian migraine pounds.

It seems there are different standards for wine regions in the EU. So while Champagne skates, Tuscany returns to Savanarola and the Inquisition. Right as the wild asparagus on the hill is fresh and tender.

Meanwhile in Trento the young lions have embraced technology with all of their Teutonic fervor. Thrown in with them is a southerner from Abruzzo for a little spice; that is what awaits us on our visit to Trento.

I am a huge fan of Mezzacorona. The landscape is dramatic (and cool), the winegrowers are arranged in a social network to encourage quality over plonk. The grower’s cooperative of Mezzacorona is an anthill that works extremely well. And the wines, made with regards to efficiency and cleanliness, are rather nice values. And in times where our currency is as rough as the Italian toilet paper in the 1970’s, that is a good thing.

We were guests of Alberto Lusini, export director and Lucio Matricardi, winemaker, for a brief visit. Alberto is in his early 30’s, fresh and hopeful, with the strength of the Dolomites in his spine, keeping him in a steady path towards a future goal. I’ve watched him over the past four years and seen an evolution that is just what the Italian wine industry needs. Sound principles with a plan. In a young person, that is music, to this old eagle. Reinforcements are being readied. Yes.

Lucio is another story. While he is the enologo, he could as easily be in sales. He has a side to him that is like the pancetta and onions in an Amatriciana. Spice. A smart guy. Though he is a Dottore, he didn’t get it from some Italian diploma factory. He got his PhD from University of California at Davis for work done on ageing. He has a crazy side to him, which is a great balance to the calmness of Alberto. A good team. We like Lucio.

The whole operation is filled with youth. Working. The North, so grounded with their mountains and their alpine water.

After a brief tour around the winery, which I call the most beautiful industrialized winery I have ever seen, we headed up to a meeting room for some blending. Lucio had arranged several samples of the sparkling wine, called Talento, for us to make a cuvee. This is their Rotari, which has this uncanny aspect that, when tasted blind against some of the big brands from Champagne, taste better, richer, cleaner and cost a fraction of their French cousin’s wines. Go figure. They're not selling perfume in Trento, just serviceable bubbly with high quality and flavor that the Italians looove.

A word about the vineyards. For some time now, before green was the new black, a movement has been underway in Trento to return to the ways of their great grandparents, in terms of farming. The use of artificial stimulation and pest eradication by chemical means is being highly discouraged by the Mezzacorona team. For one, they are also apple farmers and the whole earth cycle relies on the interplay of crops and bees and creatures and health in the farms. People are living in their vineyards and groves; the average size of the farm is less than 2 acres. So the farmers are close to their source. This is not some agribusiness making decisions from a boardroom on the 45th floor. They are living their life on site and also feel the need to protect their health as well. Got it?

All this happened between two dining events. The night my colleague Todd and I arrived we met at the Ristorante Chiesa in Trento. Owner Alessandro Chiesa and his talented young chef, Peter Brunel have created a warm, smart place in sleepy little Trento. Great food, fresh, foraged from local sources with an eye towards simplicity, with a dollop of elegance. A nod to Gualtiero Marchese, another to Ferran Adrià. And then the energy of youth and the spirit of place pull their strings. Don’t miss this spot. One of the best meals of the year.

A word about asparagus. I have this love-hate relationship with asparagus. Kind of like I do with Pinot Grigio. Let me just cut to the chase and say that this year in the north of Italy the asparagus rivaled the artichokes. And artichokes roll me over with nary an attempt to win my heart. I love them that much. But the chefs in Northern Italy have been blessed with a wonderful asparagus harvest this year. And we were lucky enough to sample the harvest as they worked their way through the kitchens of Chiesa, L' Albereta and Piazza Duomo. Didn’t mean to brag.

The other meal was a lunch in the hills before we sped off to Erbusco. This was in a room holding no more than 20 seats. Country cooking. Hearty. My aunt Amelia’s cooking. Homemade stuffed pastas and farmers plates. Add to this a bottle of Teroldego, and you have an "Oh God, wonderful" moment.

Heading down the hill to the autostrada (we were running late), I looked back at Alberto and Lucio, one from the north and one from the south, and saw the future, once again, in the hands of youth. Yes, politicians with new hair and fresh tans work the airwaves to rearrange the power grid in Italy. But this is not the world that 70 year old men can fix.

And while those young men disappeared rapidly from my rear view window as we sped off in haste, they will not be swept away by never-ending elections. Let's hope they, and the engaged young men and women of Italy, are the antidote to the Malessere.

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