Sunday, May 25, 2014

7 Questions about Italy, Wine and Passion

A few months ago on Antonio Galloni’s Vinous “Your Say” site, there was some lively conversation when Monica Larner showed up. She peeked in and said hello and some of the folks were off to find their pitchforks and machetes, whereby she ducked back out, never to be heard from again in that chat room. Pity, because I think highly of Monica. But I definitely understand when one is made to feel unwelcome by some of the members. Organizations, families and the like aren’t always comprised of people who play nice. Sometimes they hurt.

Eric Guido, one of the members of the group, asked Monica some questions. Eric is one of the good guys, so I think he was just trying to engage another person in a dialogue. He started with, “Here are some questions I’d love to know the answer to; obviously it's part of your job to be objective,” and he proceeded to ask some interesting questions. Interesting enough that I asked him if I could use the questions for my own post. So in lieu of Monica answering them (which I am sure those of us who like and respect her would also love to hear from her, in due time) I have taken them on for my own experience, with Eric’s permission. Here goes:

Where would you say your palate is with Italian wine?
First, I'd have to ask, what are we eating? What's for supper?

What I think I like and what I like aren’t always the same thing. I have my preconceptions and prejudices, like everyone. What I have found is that I like modern wines a lot more than I think I did. I like traditional wines too, but sometimes the wines I think are traditional, they aren’t. Part of the problem is how the winery or their web site spins things. What I find I am not so fond of are the experimental wines, no sulfite ones, some orange wines. Wines that are made to be a statement but not necessarily made to be delicious. I understand them from a philosophical point of view. But what I am looking for, in the final analysis is, taste. And deliciousness.

I love white wines. Soave, Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Grechetto Carricante, Fiano, Greco, Falanghina, Vermentino (from Tuscany) Arneis, Cortese, Muller Thurgau, Riesling and Kerner, to name a few.

Red wine wise, I enjoy wine from the Marche, Abruzzo, Tuscany. Sangiovese and Montepulciano. I love Nebbiolo, but also enjoy the less sought after wines from Piedmont, Barbera, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Pelaverga. Southern Italian reds I have loved for many years, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Aglianico, Nero D’Avola, Nerello, Cerasuolo.

I love the sparkling wines from Lombardy and Trentino. Also the better Prosecco from the Veneto. Particularly fond of rosato wines, especially the darker colored ones from Abruzzo and Alto Adige, but still seek out and enjoy rosé from Sicily, Apulia, Calabria, Campania, Tuscany. Lambrusco, especially from Sorbara variety, I am very fond of.

One of the reasons why I have been into Italian wines for so many years is that they constantly reward me and surprise me.

Do you prefer modern styles, international, or traditional?
In a word, yes. I collect and enjoy both modern (sometimes called international) and traditional. What I prefer is a wine in balance. Of course balance is different things to different people. If the winemaker makes a wine with tons of new oak and high alcohol and it strikes me as balanced (at the time) and I enjoy it, so be it. If the winemaker leaves the winemaking to nature and the wine is funky and quirky and I love it, I stand ready. I realize I have just described extremes. For me there are plenty as well in the middle that are making perfectly enjoyable wines. That said, I look at tradition as being very important. However what is considered traditional today was considered avant-garde 30-40 years ago. So what is tradition? I am reminded of something Bucky Fuller once said, “Anything that nature lets you do is natural.” We think we are pulling the strings when we make our many personal pronouncements. But the larger system (earth, solar, universe, and so on) all influence things. Our perceptions of these things are merely that. We aren’t that important.

What Italian wine would you reach for any day of the week?
First and foremost, something white, Verdicchio, Soave and Gavi. Then rosé. Red wine, lighter Nebbiolo wines, Chianti Classico and Rufina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Nero D’Avola. Lagrein, Gaglioppo and Aglianico.

Is the depth of your experience with Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily, and The Veneto? North, South, or Central Italy?
I’ve traveled to every region in Italy except for Sardegna, multiple times. Spent long periods of time in Umbria, Abruzzo, Tuscany, Sicily, Apulia, Veneto, Piedmont and Calabria. I’d say my experience is wide and of medium depth. I prefer to drink the wines in the region where they are made with the foods, except for Rome. In Rome, anything goes. Anything.

What are the wines that you’ve focused on since their inception (going back more than a few decades), tasted numerous verticals of and have in your own cellar?
I think I have a pretty good idea about Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, Brunello, Barbaresco and Sicilian wines. I probably have more Produttori del Barbaresco in my closet than anything. In fact, if I had to choose only one wine (or winery) it probably would be that wine. Recently I had a person tell me they went into Total Wine and was looking for Produttori there and the clerk told them Produttori wasn’t a real winery. I know that clerk. I think we’ll have to have a little talk. He did himself and his potential client a disservice by saying that.

What are your favorites outside of Italy?
Riesling from the Mittelmosel. Syrah from the Northern Rhone. Bordeaux wine, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, Pomerol, St. Emilion. I love old California wine from the 60’s and 70’s as well as the new California wine popping up today. I would love to drink more Burgundy, but I don’t want to spend $40 for a mediocre one, when Italy has many options in that range. I miss white Burgundy. It seems the white Burgundy I collected from the 80’s and 90’s didn’t age so well. I also like Riesling from Clare Valley. I love Port, Madeira Sherry and Montilla.

What drives your passion for wine? Is it passion, or is it just a job? (Like many writers we’ve encountered).
First it was an interest. Then I became involved in the trade in 1981. I never worked solely for money, so one could say it is about passion. I do work very hard and the writing part came later. Lately I have not had as much time for the writing as the job is very demanding. But I am still pretty geeked out about wine and many different kinds of wine. I’m not interested in trophy wines or trophy wine tastings. That seems to be a pattern lately, among influencers in the wine world. The idea of tasting all the vintages of Gaja doesn’t interest me. I’d rather taste a bottle at a time. Maybe I am a bit more hedonistic, and I surely am economical minded. If I were a bottle of wine the last thing I would want people to do would be open me with 30 other vintages of me. I dislike beauty pageants. I think that breaking down all the contestants down to their parts and pieces and comparing their better attributes is not respectful of the whole person or the whole wine. I would rather spend time wine one wine or person than with many. So yes, I guess you could say I am still very passionate about wine.

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