Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Makes Italian Wine "Important?"

As I tear up the Italian wine trails, both the autostrada and the back roads only found by GPS, eventually when I land in a winery tasting room or around a table with food, the conversation is led by Italians wanting to talk about important wines. I am hearing that a lot lately. But what really are they talking about?

In reality the Italians have been talking about this for some time. In the past they used the word “particolare.” Somewhere after Y2K the phrase became “important.” But this important word, what is it to some people and something else to others?

I think what many are talking about is a wine that can be seen to compete on an international stage. Accepted as one of the wines that run the world catwalk and can stroll with the best of them. High cheekbones, good body (more fat than thin), a deep smoky mode and fast racy flavors. And of course, NFB (new French barriques).

I like the smell of barrels. But growing up in a Bourbon and Scotch culture, I think we in America are moving away from that profile fairly rapidly. And to the well trained European palate, what is this mania? Is it the exotic, the out of the ordinary? I am amazed at a culture that has come up with so many nuances in their flavor spectrum that they would just roll over and die to the aromas of wet paper and smoke layered with a sweet saucy note and finished up tied nicely with a bow of fruit and glycerin and more oak and sugar and alcohol. I’m sorry, but I think America is going away from that. And Italy, at least the winemakers and tastemakers, seem to think for the last generation that this is a curiosity but one that they must address, or rather, embrace, And it has me absolutely mystified.

I keep coming back to the aspect of the Italian mind that sees the high and mighty as a goal. The wealthiest Count, the most landed Duke, the (commercially) successful artist, the outrageous haute couture sun dress that bares even more flesh, perfume and tarted up characteristics

I’m going to leave it at this for now, because it is late and I really want to start a discourse in my virtual world. I surely am not having much luck with this conversation in the real world. At least, not that I can tell.


De Vino said...

I think generally talking you can substitute the word important with expensive :)
A more important wine is also more expensive then a less important one.

Hoke Harden said...

Don't mess with the sun dress, bro.

Otherwise, yeah, good rant.

Every one I know who treasures the vast array of Italian wines bemoans the heavy vanilla-izing and gorpification of the great lean and stern Italian wines, and wonders why they feel compelled to do it. "Sales" is the easiest answer, I suppose, but oh, the pity of walking away from the people who brought them to the dance...

Anonymous said...

Nice cat shot. Precious really liked it.

Thomas said...

Interesting to see Hoke comment, because he will understand my story.

About 1998 or so, while visiting VinItalia, I had occasion to spend time in the Bolla reception center in Verona. The evening was hosted by Brown-Forman.

We tasted through Bolla products, some that didn't seem to make it to our side of the ocean. Then, I was asked to step over to a table where an unveiling would take place of Bolla's new line of wines: Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, you know...

The wines were boring and woody, and much like wannabe California cults. When I asked the winemaker why Bolla in Valpolicella was producing wine that seemed like Napa (bad Napa, but I didn't say that) he pointed to the Brown-Forman rep and said, "that's what he says America wants."

Marco Spuntino said...

You could just as easily say that we grew up in a Coke-Pepsi culture as a bourbon-scotch culture, i.e. the undying tie to vanilla Americano oakyness.
I remember drinking an old Rioja with you. You thought it tasted like port while 2B Pasolini and I loved it.
As for the importance of Italian wine, it's importante because it's Italian. If it remains uniquely Italian then it is important. If it caves into internazionale, then it is just that and the DOC could be anywhere.
I still find buying Italian wine a crap shoot. Just last night a so-so dolcetto and an uninspired Nero d'Avola. Part of that is the shop's new 'focus'.

Hoke Harden said...

Wasn't me saying that---it was one of the marketing guys. :^)

I kept asking for the single vineyard soave classicos and the Collio SBs (and getting ignored).

Bolla simply became a commodity brand that coincidentally happened to be in Italy. I worry when Barbera becomes blueberry syrup---and it's the local boys driving the change, not the mega-conglomerati.

Michele Connors said...

I agree with Marco Spuntino, it is crap shoot, it's all about tasting and getting to know various producers yourself. As we know from this blog, the DOCG and DOC labels are often meaningless. I have lately been finding bottle variation to be a serious problem, too, but maybe that's just wine in general, since I drink almost exclusively Italian wines.

Also the Coke comment. I heard this bourbon/scotch theory from an enologist in Piemonte, it made me laugh out loud. I don't think of Americans as having a palate affected by scotch and bourbon - us Northerners never touch the stuff. The palate difference is that Americans have a tendency to like sweet things more than others. It's high fructose corn syrup more than Jack Daniels, I would say!

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks everyone. it has been a long day starting @ 5 AM in Puglia and ending in Tuscany @ way past midnight. carry on y'all - thanks!

Iraqi Dinar said...

Each part of Italy makes a great dessert wine

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