Thursday, March 08, 2012

Modern day Cirò: Sleeping with the enemy?

Mama don't let your (Gaglioppo) babies grow up to be Cabernets

Photo by Vincenzo Forciniti
In my early morning ramblings along the lonely corridors of the internets, I have been buzzing around the debate about what a wine should be when it comes from a certain place. Along with that the notion that a wine from a certain area, like the Old World, should emulate wines in the New World. And the equally seductive position that wines in the New World aspire to being more like wines in the Old World. All of this can get very confusing, even after years of reading, sipping and thinking. Carving it down to the essence has become my preference, mainly because it simplifies things and makes time for other activities, like enjoying wine.

I sense there is a battle going on in Calabria over the nature of wine. Some of the young producers have traveled a little, maybe just to Tuscany. But my sense is they want something more for their region, their wines. The thrill of America still beckons in the background. This may be something as simple as blending 5% Cabernet into their Gaglioppo, but that little 5% can cause many late night arguments.

Give me that old time religion - photo by Gerald Weisl @ Weimax
Not having a large amount of experience with tasting a wine like Cirò over the years, but having tasted quite a few, both on site and at the table, here are some of my fractured thoughts on the matter.

It is only normal to aspire to something better. Trying to figure the best route is the work of a lifetime. In Italy there have been people who have been influential, not always for the best.

While not wanting to pick on one or two people only, some of the more vocal ones over the years have significantly plotted a course by which many followers chose. It seems apropo by those rare voices to criticize Ezio Rivella in these times, and while the man has a family and has had his work to do, it could also be said that some of his influences have been diabolically counterproductive or at the very least cynically misdirected. Adopting a “California style” with fruit, oak and grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon might sound romantic and exciting to a winemaker in Calabria. The world does not need a French-oak-aged Cabernet from Calabria. The simple reality for the marketplace is that there are other places that can out-compete Calabria for value and quality in Cabernet, such as Bordeaux, California and Chile.

What if the Italians who came from Italy to the New World had brought Gaglioppo to Napa Valley? Would the industry in California be a totally different creature? No doubt. Maybe some of them did, if there were some from Calabria that made it past Brooklyn or Shreveport or Reno.

Punta Alice e Ciro' - photo by Giovanni Paccaloni
Why would someone in Calabria, who has lived with the land for generations, decide to inject his vineyard with Cabernet? Is it to emulate his Tuscan neighbors’ successes? Is it to reach a larger market? Higher scores? I have had this argument with winemakers for years, and when it comes up they become deaf and unable to understand my words in any language.

I mean, it is kind of presumptuous of me to try and tell them what to do, this New Worlder telling the Old Worlder he cannot play with the toys of Napa and Bordeaux. Is it a matter of will and one’s freedom to choose his path? Is it philosophical? Or is it a something to be sorted out in the halls of commerce? Is it taste? Is it something exotic? Or is it an infection of the original exotica, Gaglioppo?

Attilio Scienza knows more about the Gaglioppo grape than all of us combined. But this is not about the grape and it isn’t even about winemaking style. For this child of Calabrese immigrants and from a distance of 100+ years, I look at the patrimony of a grapevine and feel the wonder of its passage through the millennia. Why would anyone submit their Cirò to the knife of the plastic surgeon? It is rare and wonderful and beautiful. And it tastes good.

Leave the Gaglioppo alone; don't make it sleep with Cabernet, not even 5%. It’s like taking a beautiful dark haired woman and dying her hair blond. Sure, some folks like that, but why would you take the beauty and mask it with a perverse rendering of fashion posing as pretty?

Photo by Ruggero, from the series, Greek Calabria
More posts about Calabria

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