Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Quiet Mountain

Blow your horn, Gabriel, there are other mountains

Sunrise in Montepulciano
While some concerned eyes of the Italo-enoblogosphere are on Montalcino in the last (and most likely, in the next) week, much of Italy is focused on the harvest or on their own particular problems. Imagine the president of a country wanting to get in front of the leaders and the opposition telling that person, “No” because a couple of political hopefuls are debating somewhere in flyover country. Then imagine the Italian opera, whereby this kind of scenario is light weight in comparison. And one gets a small view through the crack in the door.

The furor over the proposed Rosso di Montalcino DOC alliterations seems to me a bit silly and self-indulgent. As one producer’s representative said over dinner the other night, “The biggest problem is there is no market for Rosso di Montalcino, when one can find Brunello in the low end for a similar price.”

Indeed. What I have seen traditionally in the marketing of Rosso di Montalcino, and that spans a period going back a generation and more, is that the Rosso eventually doesn’t sell well enough and is discounted to move the product out. It’s what one Italian marketer (and wine lover) calls a “throwaway wine”, because the market seldom dispenses the wine out via the normal channels. A bit sad, in that the wines, historically, were tasty and accessible and could give one an idea of the vintage. But now with the steroid-ization of wines from Montalcino, in general, these next-gen Rossos are competing for attentions that Brunello traditionally held. And in a price category which is like so many elephants crowding the stage under the tent in a ring that doesn’t have enough people watching the show. It’s a play put on for the players, not the viewers. And it’s embarrassing from this point of view to see grown adults acting with such mis-steps, considering these are well rehearsed lines and parts.

But if humans act the way they do in political circles in Washington and Rome, why would we expect the wine leaders in Montalcino to be any different?

The only real deciding factor in moving the Montalcino business forward, with or without the folly of the Rosso fiasco, will be the market-place. And traditionally, as I said above, the business for Rosso has been weak. Now with competition from other wines, Morellino, Montecucco, SuperTuscans of all persuasions, and wines from other parts of Italy and the greater world beyond, this is just someone’s personal reality show gone bad. And one many viewers will ultimately reject and move beyond. Which is actually what most of the wine world has already done. That is the fait accompli, in this one observer’s view.

Coincidentally, I am in Montepulciano tasting through wines from their appellations. Rustic they are, and a little time warped from the swirl of modernity that seems to have swept much of Tuscany, and Italy, seeking the high ground of prestige, power and importance. But they are attractive in their simple quietness.

I asked a winemaker about the grapes used for their Rosso di Montepulciano. His reply was it has to be a certain percentage of their Sangiovese, Prugnolo Gentile, I think he said 70%. But the other 30%, if one chose not to use 100% Sangiovese, could be constituted from grapes authorized to grow in the area, Ciliegolo, Canaiolo, etc. I asked him, “Cabernet? Merlot? Syrah?” He replied, “Yes, if they are grown here.”

They difference? The fox got into their hen house some time ago. And the fox, seeing that he could have free access, didn’t get feel the thrill as much as if he had “violated” the blend with his new world cepage-mantra. And the market sorted it out in a relatively short time. Not the world market of high scores and road shows. But the local wine drinkers, the value seekers, inotherwords, normal people looking for wines to enjoy today. Not to fill up in a cellar with 90+ point trophies.

Perhaps this is or isn’t the time for Vino Nobile to climb onto the world stage. I cannot predict. But the DOCG wine and the simpler Rosso di Montepulciano are looking like a bionomic alternative to Montalcino reds. Simpler, yes. A bit less quaffed, si. And a whole lot less complicated. Not such a high maintenance profile.

The dance has gone on for so long, the sun has set. The popular one from Montalcino, with the full dance card, her feet are sore. And her trophy is tarnished.

And why, why baby, cry over something that cannot cry over you?

Maybe it is time to duck out of this crazy dance and stay a little while with the quiet one from Montepulciano?

Panzanella made by the hands of  Noemi Biagiotti

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