Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Wrath & Beyond

From the "You say you want a revolution..." department

I am in one of those states where I don’t really know which direction to go. Finding myself again as a stranger in a strange land, among friends, workers, family, countrymen. I know it’s me. It must be, the perception versus the reality. But it feels way too convincingly familiar as no man’s land, these trails I find myself walking. And as the Zen koan goes, nothing above, nothing below, so I leap off.

And leaping I find myself looking at the Italian peninsula and the latest revolution that seems to be emanating from Tuscany, in regards to red wine and the emotions that have been stirred these past few weeks via the Montalcino consorzio vote to keep the cépage of Rosso di Montalcino from being vitiated with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.

That said, it is not my political position to dislike Cabernet Merlot or Syrah, even from Tuscany. I think folks who read these posts know that if I like a wine, even if it is spoofulated to the hilt, well I’m gonna keep liking it. No one can tell me better than myself what I will or will not like. I do gravitate towards certain styles. I do not care for industrial processed meat. But once in a blue moon I try an In-n-Out burger. I prefer chicken that has been able to walk around rather than to spend its life in a cage. But what happens when I am in a restaurant and they serve a chicken which I have no idea of the provenance? And what if I like the dish? I think what I am trying to say is, I am not so proficiently good that my inner gauge always points me to the most pure expression of food or wine. One in a while something slips by and I like it. Not that there isn’t an ideal or a goal to reach. I would like one day to not ever eat any kind of meat again, in my lifetime. It probably is a difficult goal in the wine business. And maybe I am a little too weak to actually self-enforce such a lofty goal. But we can dream. It’s more that I prefer plants over meat.

And so, red wine? My Calabrese brothers are looking to Montalcino and mulling over among themselves what to do with red wines that have been devised of Gaglioppo with Cabernet or Merlot. They see Montalcino as the possible start of a revolution, as a way of saying their aspirations for wine, should they be based on what a few wine critics from America think wine should taste? If that even means they will be less commercially successful in America?

I say – GO FOR IT! We will find the wine drinkers who want a pure unadulterated Gaglioppo. They are coming up. And yes, there are plenty of people for whom a Tuscan wine laced with Syrah or Malbec or Cabernet or Pinot Noir will work just fine for them. Should we make them sit in the back of the church, mere Catechumens waiting to experience the true light of the Savior? Sangiovese in purezza? Will that rescue the Italian economy or recast the soul of the Italian wine industry? Is it that simple? Is that the battle?

Of course it isn’t. The Italian wine industry is made up of thousands of souls with ideas, fears, hopes and dreams. And they all don’t coincide with everyone else’s. Perhaps the final arbiter is the street, the marketplace, egged on by a few powerful marketers looking to sell a lot of wine and influence wine drinkers. But who made Moscato such a force that it has become? Lil' Kim? Lil Wayne? Or a whole lot of people who like sweet wine that’s low in alcohol? Of course the marketers jumped on that tiger and will ride it until it collapses. Like they always do.

So where is this going? It is probably an omni-directional movement, part revolution and part the momentum of the marketplace. There is no “One Way” in anything, even though there are those who would like to wrap it up all neat and tidy and put it on a shelf and sleep peacefully at night knowing that all things are well with the world.

I am in the marketplace, daily. I know what I like. I also know many of my buyers like totally different things. Have I had any luck in that last generation to move some of those folks in directions I want them to go? Some, yes. But for the most part, I cannot say that my influence has moved the market. Sure it’s nice to get the occasional compliment, and I do. But I am a realist in that area. None of us are that big. Well, maybe a Terlato or a LoCascio or a DiBelardino or a Mariani. But the majority of us, the little people, we carve and we sand and we burnish and we oil and we hope to make something that will provide direction and maybe even a little joy. It’s not a position of power many of us are looking for.

And likewise with many of the winemakers, I think they are responding to their earth and then the influences around them. Some are better perceivers of those things around them; some are able to balance the expectations of others with their personal vision. Hence, we have pure wines from Sangiovese with little use of oak and manipulation that taste great now and in 20 years. And down the street we have fancy baroque red wines, all manner of grapes, all manner of French oak, fancy labels big heavy bottles, big price tags. And someone, somewhere, wants those wines too.

My hope for the Calabrese, and the Sicilians and the Marchegiani and the Apulians and any one in any region that is searching for their soul in the wine they make is this: I want you not to think about what we want you to be. I do not care that you make a wine for high scores. If you do, fine. If you don't, fine too. What I am looking for is wine that reflects your truth, your soil, your earth, your heart.

Happy Harvesting!

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy


Thomas said...

Hear, hear.

Rosanne said...

Thank you, Alfonso. Beautifully done.

Samantha Dugan said...

Bravo. Man I dig what you do.

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