Thursday, April 03, 2014

What’s it all about, Alfio?

After an intense few days in Verona for the Concorso Enologico International, Vinitaly’s wine competition, where I sat as a judge, I made my way from the Veneto. I’m conflicted about many of the wines from that region, mainly because so many producers have decided to make a wine with so much power and fruit. Poor Valpolicella, it has really been upturned. At a reception for a book on Corvina, many producers in the book showed up with their wine. One very famous one walked in with several bottles of his Valpolicella. After an hour or two, someone poured me a taste. I looked for the spit bucket, the wine was undrinkable. It was like drinking a fence post, harsh and stiff. And they charge how much for this perversion?

At another event, in a grand palace, we are poured the producer’s Soave. In another room they pour their barrel aged Chardonnay. At the table they serve us a Merlot, the grapes dried Amarone style. We ask for some more Soave. It took quite the arm twisting to get them to pour us the simple little Soave. The other wines were designed for whom?

The next morning I made my way to Tuscany, and Badia a Coltibuono. Upon entering a fresco covered room, I sensed a familiar place. The room was filled with Italian wine shop owners and restaurateurs happily sipping and chatting. I’d been in this room before, but not in the last 100 years. The simple Sangiovese caused my eyes to well up. I moved to the window for this private moment. At least we haven’t lost the Tuscans.

Look, I understand. Italian wine is big business. Ask the guys who make the big decisions. There is a lot of money to be made, lots of thirsty mouths to fill. It’s just less and less where I find myself going these days. It’s a lonely place, I often feel trapped in a corner without a window to look out of.

But Tuscany is listening. I’m on the mend, the fires are contained and we go back to the work of getting the soil ready for the next turn.

In Tuscany, winter is gone. Bees are buzzing the rosemary, birds are playing out their dramas, the sun is shining. Time for a break from polenta and risotto; time for some carciofi, some wild fennel, maybe to start a new fire in the pit, and do some cooking.

As much as I love simple, pure, Sangiovese, and I’m going to be getting my share in the next days, I spotted a bottle of Barbaresco and opened it. A pasture raised chicken, marinated with olive oil and herbs from the estate, a little garlic, some salt and lemon and a hot fire. My Italy, not the crazy autostradas of people driving too fast while on their phone, not looking where they are going, not caring about the harm they cause.

Yes, Italy isn’t always la grande bellezza. On the roads and in the vineyards there are a lot of breakdowns. But there are also the simple moments. The pure souls, they are still here. I drive in their direction, slowly, but with purpose.

Italy, after coming here for over 40 years now, I still don’t know you. What I do know, though, is there is a link that keeps me coming back, looking for those parts of Italy that ring the big bell deep inside, in the hope of an ever greater awakening.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Thomas said...


The answer to your question of who are the Veneto wines being made for was given to me many years ago in the cantina of a famous Valpolicella producer, when I asked why they were doing what they were doing to their wines.

"Our importer in America tells us that what's you want."

Gary York said...

This will be my 16th Vinitaly, and I ask myself the same question. And I have to look harder and still buy less. The past is the key to the future.

Amy Evans said...

What a beautiful post Alfonso. I'm immediately adding "fence post" to my wine lexicon! Thank you and please keep driving slowly and with purpose.

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