Thursday, May 16, 2013

Italy is “Open for Business”

Ever since we touched down, this recent trip on the wine trail in Italy has been non-stop tasting and traveling. From three days in Piedmont and the Langhe to a day of travel in which we spent in the Veneto and Valpolicella, to our current base near Udine, we have been hitting it pretty hard.

Tasting everything from Moscato to Arneis, Pelaverga to Barbaresco, Barolo to Amarone and now in Friuli, Pinot Grigio to Tocai. Today is the last day in Friuli before heading back to the Veneto and Valdobbiadene for the Vino in Villa event. It’s a bit of a blur, and the beat goes on.

Not a death march, but some extensive tastings. And here’s where the romance fades pretty quickly. While we are tasting some odd and unusual wines, we are also chasing after some of the hot categories, wines that fill up the containers that go on the ships that feed the thirst of the everyday wine drinker. Wines like Moscato, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco.

In Piedmont we tasted scores and scores of Moscato d’Asti’s. Categories that I thought would have a pretty common thread running through them, it turns out there are some noticeable quality level differences. Is it terroir, is it technique? Here’s where one can find the real dividing line between wine made from the heart and wine made for the masses. Much more difficult to distinguish oneself and one’s wine than in the vaulted appellations like Barolo, Barbaresco and Amarone. Not that there aren’t huge differences there.

One diversion. After a long, long day of going through the paces with the Moscato tasting, we rewarded ourselves and took a quick trip to Verduno, to taste with Fabio Burlotto. One in our group, Alfred “Fredo” Laudato, had been salivating to taste the wines. I had not heard too much about these wines and Verduno was a place I had no recollection of ever going to.

What a wonderful find. The winery tasting room is set in a small deconsecrated church, meticulously restored and maintained. Blind Saint Lucy hovering above us while we tasted through the wines, not blindly.

Burlotto is worthy of a separate post. The Barolo made a deep impression, as if I had been shown something that had always been there but not so visible to just anyone. Silly, because the place isn’t hidden out on some mountain road. No, the wines intrigued. Especially interesting was the Pelaverga.

After leaving the Langhe, while in Marano di Valpolicella, tasting with a small producer, I asked him about any unusual landmarks remaining from the fascist era. On our way from the vineyard we stopped and took a look at a building which looked like it had been defaced by graffiti. In reality the building had been a billboard for Mussolini. His head was plastered all over the façade of the building, three maybe four times. Now all that remains is a palimpsest-like reminder of an era and a leader who almost destroyed Italy. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Staying at a winery agritourismo near Udine, yesterday we tasted almost 50 Pinot Grigio wines, from the Veneto, Friuli and Alto Adige. Why, one might ask? Where are those famous vertical tastings of great Baroli? Those would be easier found back in America. Italy is still open for business and we must feed the hungry masses. Time after work to reward ourselves with a little diversion back into history if one is not lucky enough to have fallen into the right place, sitting on the edge of the banquette, tasting greatness, the ninth player, not invited, but not cast off either.

I don’t know where it was, but I was with someone, who told me “I don’t like the wine business.” I think it was my friend Roberto Paris. Odd, because Roberto is in the thick of it. But I believe his detachment comes from his Buddhist leanings. “Attach yourself to no thing.”

Meanwhile the business of selecting even the most mundane of wines can be an occasion to learn something, making the great experiences even more meaningful. Yesterday when tasting through the 50 or so Pinot Grigio wines, I was a little surprised to realize that my favorite ones were the inexpensive offerings. The Delle Venezie IGT wines, often declassified DOC Collio, showed style and brevity. I don't want a Pinot Grigio to taste like a Gavi, a Tocai or a Verdicchio. I’m looking for a non-distracted reflection of simplicity. With 50 or so offerings, they were all there. We found what we were looking for.

Today is a massive Prosecco tasting, in just a few minutes. Last day in Friuli. Friuli? Prosecco? Huh?

Yes, Friuli and Prosecco. Before I head tomorrow to Valdobbiadene, we are going through some of the offerings here in the extended Prosecco DOC appellation. I’m interested in seeing how the Friuli producers show their style for another hugely popular wine. This isn’t an orange wine tour, but again, this is how Italy spreads their influence out to the world, and it might be even more important that they get it right than in the extreme corners of Italian winemaking. Gravner and I Clivi have nothing to worry about. They are the eno-paleo-philosophers. We need them for the vision stuff. We need the other folks to keep the lights on.

I hit 900 words and lost the scanners by now. I have a tasting to attend. The doors have just opened. Back with more in a day or so.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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