Sunday, December 04, 2022

No Time for La Bella Figura

From the archives - posted 06/15/10

While the wine world wrestles with the issue of what makes a wine natural, I am pointing my camera in another alley. I love natural wines, women and songs. But today I focus on the pressing issue of how Italians approach wine with regard to the impressions that surround those wines.

The standard definition (and one which can be debated for hours) for la bella figura is “to cut a good figure - to make the right impression - to look good.” But that’s more a jumping off point for where I am taking this post.

No, the alley I am walking into is lined with ideas and desires, an italo-centric view of the way things work - Italy as the center of the world. Egotistical? Could be. Fantastical? Without a doubt. Harmless? Absolutely not!

As the Italians travel more, to Singapore, to India, to Plano, to other parts of their country ( and not just the tony resorts in Sicily or Sardegna) their view of the world is opening up. A thousand points of Marco Polo, going out into the world and coming back home with something to think about on their beach mats during August.

But something is off. Many of them come back, readjusted to the realities of the world. But the comfort of being Italian, the easy access to great weather, food, scenery, the infinitesimal ease of living lulls one back into the mother’s cradle. “We love you just the way you are.” A sentiment that is repeated millions of times. And perfectly ok for human affection and love. If that is your thing.

But to take the future of Italian wine and run forward with the feeling that everything one does and will do will be alright because momma loves me, well, that’s not my idea of where the Italian wine future is waiting.

My point? Something stirring on my arm, my hair raises, but I am not sure I can really elucidate clearly. More of a feeling. And I will keep this short.

My feeling is that our beloved Italians fall too quickly in love with an idea and then pursue it without regard to a long term process. Switching Tuscany over to Syrah, the agglomeration of Nero D’Avola into an overly muscular and unwieldy wine, the approbation of Amarone’s that no one can finish or really enjoy, let alone afford. All this seems to be a corruption of some bella figura maneuver that just isn’t working.

As a previous owner of four Fiats (from the 1970’s and 1980’s) I have endured an certain Italian nonchalance. I have rebuilt those engines with my own hands. Impossible? Inescapable.

But today, what is avoidable, with the communications we all have available, is the ability to cut through the noise (even if it is in one’s own head) and attend to the needs of the times and the markets. We’re not all mid-town Manhattan or Dubai (wait, they are affected by this economic roll down too, yes?).

If one wants to roll in today’s’ world, perhaps they should start listening to the young and pretty wine lovers coming up in the world. A perfect sentiment was voiced to me yesterday. I was in a wine seminar with a group of servers. We tasted a range of wines from crisp whites to light, fruity reds to fuller-bodied reds with some alcohol, more flavor and oak. A young lady takes me aside. She is early 30’s, smart, with long flowing hair in a natural style. She cuts a fine figure herself. “These wines you brought. I know the manager liked the big wine, because it is expensive and full. And because he thinks we can sell it and make a lot of money for the restaurant. But a big wine like that might be for him a surrogate Viagra. Ok for him if he likes that, but our clients are young and impatient. They want to come in, have a pizza and a nice glass of wine. They come in here thinking they should be drinking red, even when it is 100 degrees outside. This young red Sangiovese you brought, the 2009, is perfect for them. It isn’t pretending to be a middle-aged millionaire. It is young; it doesn’t have a lot of money. But it has a nice life ahead of itself. Bring us more of these wines, please.”

This is a great time for wine. And a great time to hide the mirrors. The world is waiting.

Images courtesy of Museo del Vino della Terra d'Arneo

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