Wednesday, October 22, 2008

American Politics with a Tuscan Twist

While traveling across the central width of Italy last month there were signs of interest in the coming election in the United States. Italians love to display their opinions. Anyone who traveled in Italy in early 2003 saw a preponderance of multi-colored flags with the word PACE streaming from balconies and balustrades across the country. In that moment the sentiment was of protestation against an imminent invasion and war against Iraq.

This time the PACE flags have faded. In windows and as fashion accessories, the Italians once again express their thoughts on an election they can neither vote in nor influence. That is unless some of those Italians also happen to be American citizens.

We visited one such family in Florence. I have been friends with photographer Maurizio Berlincioni since the early 1970’s. So as we traveled from Castiglione della Pescaia to San Benedetto del Tronto (one side of the country to the other – left to right) we took a break for lunch with Maurizio and his two kids, who can vote, because their momma is an Americana.

It appears from all signs that the Italians greatly favor Obama. The fact that Biden in a Roman Catholic also adds a connection, just as it did when Kennedy ran in 1960. The Italians don’t forget so easily when one comes along that inspires and causes many of us to look up and beyond the current mire we have found ourselves wallowing in.

But seeing as we were (and are) on the wine trail in Italy, we thought we’d query the locals to offer vinous equivalents to the candidates and some of the supporting cast. And as we were in Tuscany the logical progression made it seem like we should stick to wines from that region. Here's our Tuscan tally:

Sarah Palin is a Chianti "in fiasco". A little wicker model, something fresh and fruity and not too deep. Not made for the ages, this is a wine to enjoy “for the moment” as it traditionally doesn’t offer much interest in the long run. It still has the dreaded DOCG appellation, but as many have commented elsewhere, that simple Chianti shares the highest denomination as a Chianti Classico or Brunello says more about the political wheeling and dealing than anything else. Pick a young one and sell it far and wide- take the money and run. A long shot.

Joe Biden is also a Chianti, but a Chianti Classico Riserva from a well known and time tested producer. And like some of those riservas folks often underestimate their power or their presence among the cognoscenti of Italian wine lovers. Anyone who has let one of those wines rest in the cellar for 10,15,20 years and then open it up on a late October night knows the untapped potential and surprise that awaits the patient ones. Elegance, restraint, depth, character, if the cellaring has gone well. A good value if properly kept.

Cindy McCain is a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. We like to quote the poetry of Michelangelo, especially the part that he wrote about Vernaccia when he said it was a wine that licks kisses, bites, pinches and stings. Ask Carol McCain (the 1st wife) about the sting. John probably could vouch for several of those descriptions as well, though he might not remember them after so many years. And a doctor or volunteer back in the day over at AVMT (American Voluntary Medical Team) might be able to Xerox their affidavits from 1992 to cover the pinch. Vernaccia is a thin, acidic wine that everybody praises but almost no one in Tuscany likes. The only reason for not hating Vernaccia would be to save that emotion for Galestro, which by this time has been laid to rest, hopefully. Praised but seldom enjoyed.

Michelle Obama is a Super Tuscan, one that hails from Greve. The Tuscans made her wine-avatar a blend called Batàr, 50% Pinot Blanc, 50% Chardonnay and one of the few recognized white wines to qualify as a Super Tuscan. Too new and blended to be marked as a traditional wine (or potential First Lady) but able to stand up to the Big Boys and fire away with plenty of power and aim. While this is a white wine and many folks suggest that white wines from Tuscany (and Italy) don’t have the ability to stay in the game for long, Batàr has been proven to withstand the rigors of time, in fact ageing quite remarkably well. “Sublime”, writes Parker. “Truly extraordinary,” says Jancis Robinson. To get both of those folks on the same page is a real feat. Rare, but worth the search.

John McCain is a Brunello in today’s political landscape. Under fire, not quite sure what is inside, elements of long-standing tradition, but somehow our Italians think his image has been “swift-boated” by his own party. The jury is still out, though they are being pressed to come in with a verdict. We might have to wait a little longer to find out what will happen to Brunello than to John McCain. If he doesn’t win, he can always drown his sorrows in buckets of beer and bucks, something he has access to both of in excess. Then again he can search one of his many cellars, from Sedona to Coronado and maybe find a bottle of red even older than he. Pray it isn’t corked, or cooked. He certainly seems to be of the latter disposition at this point. Their verdict for Brunello: When young, unstable, when older, unreliable. A wine we want to love but at this moment don’t quite trust.

Barack Obama is, like his wife, a Super Tuscan. He is an amalgam of indigenous and transported grapes. His vineyard is on the Maremma, the sunny coastal area which is new and relatively untested. But there is a great deal of enthusiasm for these wines and the wine that Obama reflects in the hearts and minds of our Tuscan prognosticators is, although untested, reminiscent of a once great one from the 1960’s. It might be that our Tuscans are just tired of the same old Sangiovese, they are ready for a change, and this Super Tuscan has arrived in time to anticipate their hopes and dreams. We shall see. Their conclusion for the Super Tuscan: Young and lively, with a mid-palate of composed notes, carefully composed and arranged. If it hasn’t been over-oaked, it might be ready within the next 4-8 years.

We went back and forth with the emails on the characters and the wines but it wasn’t until this past Sunday that we had our final entry.

Colin Powell is a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, for like the wine, they both served at the pleasure of their rulers. Often cast aside in favor of the more obstreperous Brunello, Vino Nobile is the phlegmatic one, calm under fire and very dependable, and a great dancer. Able to take the hill and "get down tonight". Our Tuscans thought the Colin Powell showed great strength of conviction even though his latest moves probably wouldn’t be too popular back in his grand old party. But like Vino Nobile, sometimes being the most popular one isn't the highest goal. To serve as an agent of change and veracity seeks higher ground and purpose.

And that dear readers, is how our Prada Italians are calling the race. We shall see, shan’t we?


dobianchi said...

I love the McCain-Brunello analogy. As I wrote the other day, On the Wine Trail in Italy just keeps bending and expanding our genre in ways that always surprise me and create new ways of looking at our industry and ultimately ourselves... Chapeau, Alfonso!


Marco said...

Bravo, AC. Excellent match ups. My only quibble is with Michelle Obama. I see her as an rustic robust red, maybe an Aglianico or an Etna Rosso.

Alfonso Cevola said...

"And as we were in Tuscany the logical progression made it seem like we should stick to wines from that region."

genevelyn said...

Holy smokes, fire and brimstone, you can write A. Best post I've read anywhere in a month, or more.

Marco said...

'Scusi, signore, capo bastone. I have a cold and am a little dumb right now. Again, they are all great match ups.

Julie Tijerina said...

"Their verdict for Brunello: When young, unstable, when older, unreliable. A wine we want to love but at this moment don’t quite trust."

Ain't it the truth. I would have drunk it 8 years ago...

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