Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Glamour of Arrogance

I don’t know what it is about Sunday. Where once there was a family dinner, now there is solitary reflection in front of an empty screen. From the perspective of practice, when I look around these days, what is it about Italian wine that seems to have become an endless catwalk of the richest, biggest and most obvious? Standing in line, waiting to talk to a wine buyer last week, I was thumbing through a pile of wine reviews and noticed how the wines that were getting all the accolades ( read: 94 points and above) seemed to be these shorn up, beef-caked, tag-team wines that more resemble porn stars than classics. Who is putting these wines in their cellars, let alone their goblets?

When did the search for the Shangri-La of wine go so off track? The history of Italian wine shows us that it was built up over the ages by the monastics, who took care to keep the light burning through some dark and dreary days. Nothing so glamorous then, working the fields in the dark, at 4:00 AM in the biting cold. Year after year. With no love, save the Divine Love, to keep the solitary worker in the field, hopeful for a better day. Hope and faith. Not arrogance.

I went through a wine collection yesterday, one that has been in the works for 30 years. In it many of the bottles were created by people that are long gone. Some of the newer wines, one in particular, A Super Tuscan from a producer in Montalcino, struck me. I don’t know what the owner will do with the wine. It has too much power to be enjoyed. It’s too noisy, wants to lead but doesn’t really need a partner to dance with. I’d say to put it in the ‘drink now’ bin, but I’m not sure it will ever be ready to drink.

I spied a few California wines, some which were blockbusters in their day, now shuffling off to the veteran’s home, no fire left in them. Maybe that is where these over-promising and under-delivering Super Tuscans will end up. Which seems like a waste of the Tuscan land which wrought them from the ground.

Whether it is Tuscany or Campania, Sicily or Friuli, Italian wines are at a crossroads. They have fashioned themselves to be these worldly wines in a universe of other worldly wines, all competing for the attention of the same buyer. And those buyers are looking for the next big thing, whether it is an Ovid from Napa or a Mollydooker or God knows what. Why? When did Ferrari seek to emulate General Motors? Or Ducati chase after Harley Davidson? Still, Italian wine chases after the Shangri La wine crowd.

And if an Italian wine becomes a landmark, say a Sassicaia or a Bric dël Fiasc, does that really lead them (and the rest of us) into the Promised Land? How does it go, for what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

And if the Italian wine succeeds in becoming the king pin of all wines, then what? Defending a territory that for all purposes doesn’t exist in Italy? That would be the fitting punishment for succeeding in looking away from all that is unique and indigenously wonderful in many of the wines of Italy. It’s not too late to turn back, some of the young winemakers have looked beyond marketing and their Upper West Side flats to embrace their soil. Not glam, but sans arrogance. We can only hope. And work to help those who see this as a time to return to their winemaking as an act of selflessness and true vocation. Sounds almost ecclesiastic. Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Then all we’d have to do would be to figure out what to do with all these monstrous wines lying around.


Anonymous said...


It profits nothing to succeed and forget.

What accolades fulfill the stomach or soul at the dinner table?

If a wine is no longer a product of its origin, what good is it?
What is its purpose?
Does it solely become a means to an end?
And where does it end?

I have faith and fear for wine and its/our future together.

"while there is faith there is hope"
(I forgot the roman poet)

-Antonio G

Anonymous said...

Ferrari and Ducati. They will be around for a while. GM? I'm not so sure...

dobianchi said...

This post, a great one, takes on even more significance in the light of Gianni Brunelli's passing. Italy and Italians have lost sight of the fact that winemaking, like any agricultural act, is an inherently ideological act. Hubris has replaced humility, arrogance has replaced artisanal winemaking philosophy. RIP Brunelli: Italy needs a new generation of winemakers like him (hopefully, the emerging ViniVeri and Vinatur movements will fill this gap). Great post...

Marco Ficino said...

Classics are in a way eternal. Porn stars not so much. One doesn't tire of something created out of the soul. A memorable film peopled with icons or a great wine nurtured in the muddy terroir. Both come from the soul of the world.

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