Sunday, January 14, 2018

Everything I know about Italian wine I learned from the French

Well, almost…

"My favorite" - Jacopo Bacci @ Four Seasons Hotel - Hong Kong."
Bordeaux − I’m [virtually] in the modern center of the business of wine – for the world. Not New York. Not Hong Kong. Not Rome. Bordeaux. Right now, wine experts, critics and influencers, are migrating to this epicenter for wine, to taste wines that are, at this time, undrinkable, and will only be released three years later to the public, before which they will have already been bought and paid for. These wines, the 2017’s, will follow two highly hyped and sought after vintages (the 2015 and 2016), and which was a vintage (2017) that was challenging, at best. Frost, hail, drought, extreme heat, another potential dystopian vintage of the decade. They will sell. And they will be unaffordable to 98% of us. Yeah, the Italians have something else to learn from their French cousins.

from the website of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
The Italians, historically, have undervalued (and undersold) their wines, their culture and their artistry. Too often, the artist, the craftsman (and woman) and the wine maker (and merchant) have taken a “hat in hand” approach to representing their wares. Too often, Italian wine had to be lower in price (but not in quality). Too many times the Italians apologized for not making their wine bright enough, oaky enough, powerful enough, long-lasting enough, while their French cousins didn’t go there. They knew (and still know) their wine is great. Period. That’s all anyone needs to know. Through their collective and persistent efforts over many, many years, they are seen, by many, as the top of the wine pyramid.

Look, I love wine. And I love French wine. I collect it, store it, drink it, enjoy it. So, there’s not going to be any “but” to this. Just to say, their Italian cousins have been looking at what they do and they are catching on. Starting with global marketing in the 21st century.

Young Italians, right now, are touring through Morocco, or Cortina D’Ampezzo. This advancing generation is taking a different look at the world. They have taken a page out of their French cousin’s playbook. The young Italians are, more and more, reaching out to the world with their wines. No longer hand in hat. Now the arm that holds out the hat is adorned with tattoos and jewelry. That is their new calling card. “We’re on it, anywhere you want to go, we can take you.” And with their wines, they can. No apologies.

@ Anantara Layan Phuket Resort.
Seeing not a single market – seeing the world. The young and mobile Italians have taken those words literally. Phuket. Vancouver. Oslo. Paris. And the world is loving what they are seeing.

So am I. This has been a long time in the making, but it has taken getting to this time, and this emerging generation, to take all that their predecessors have done in terms of laying a firm foundation of solid, high quality wine, to take it to the next level.

Which is, to place their wines on the tables, and in the cellars, traditionally (and exclusively) reserved for French wine.

Let me step back, for just a moment. When one wants to get an idea of the greatness of a wine producing region, one of the go-to ways to measure it is in the depth of expression a wine region has by its ageability. Its ability to weather time. Emerging young wine professionals love to time-travel, tasting wine made before they were alive. We all do. Imagine drinking a wine, 50 years old, where most of the people who had their hands in the making of the wine have passed on. It embarks a bit of immortality to those souls and as well, it bridges their life, their experience and their philosophy, their “time,” with those of us who have arrived from the “future.” It’s a wonderful juxtaposition when a wine arrives from the past into the future, and if it is sound (or sound enough), it transcends time and space, a Golden Fleece, of sorts, something that cannot be had by all, or many. It amplifies a wine region and their prominence. The French wine community have been aware of this, saving the works of their predecessors, in caves, in vaults, in collections, over hundreds of years, giving their wine an aura of permanence, of timelessness. What is it we all are fighting to overcome? The impermanence of life. The end of our time on earth. If a wine can defy that, if just for 100 or so years, does it not give hope that we too, can break our mortal bonds, if only during the time it takes to open, drink and enjoy such a bottle of wine?

The Italians did not do such a good job of conserving their liquid legacy. Sure, you can find the occasional bottle of Barolo from 80 years ago, or a bottle of Marsala from the 1800’s. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. Even then, if one were to drink a slew of older Italian wines at one sitting, as I have a time or two, one would know that this is something that was started later than the French cousins took steps to preserve their early efforts. But 100 years from now? It’ll be a whole ‘nother story.

Valentina Abbona of Marchese di Barolo and Jacopo Bacci of Castello Bossi -
Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong.
You see it on the wine trail, and in New York, Hong Kong and San Francisco. After the Italians put away their skis and their sunblock (depending on if they went to Monte Bianco or Mombasa), the winter holiday over, the siren calls. Work. Time to show the next vintage, the new release, make room for the upcoming harvest, which is still lying dormant under the snow, or the Mistral winds.

As we speak, right now, the French are in place, corralling their clients, their critics and the influential buyers into their caves and paddocks, and warm hotel meeting rooms in Bordeaux. Muhammed to the mountain.

Meanwhile the Italians have come off their mountains and are taking it to Muhammed. Yes, the early bird gets the worm. But the race goes to the fastest swimmer.

And so, the cycle begins. The Italians are learning from their French cousins, maybe not everything they need to know about Italian wine, but a just little more. Game on.

@ Miami Beach, Florida.
And for wine lovers, it’s a win-win.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Marco Passito said...

Fine piece of writing. I always look forward to Sunday night or Monday morning to read your posts. When I was in Mombasa and on Chale Island in 1997, the Italians mainly commandeered Malindi which was a number of miles north of Mombasa. We did make it it to Kilifi one day though. The coast there is magnificent!

Marco said...

PS Earlier last evening, I noticed on the Instagram feed of a friend in NYC that she had taken her sister to Il Buco for a her birthday dinner. After posting my comment, I watched a bit of TV and read for a while. Michael Colameco in a show from 2015 was at Il Buco! There was the same table we all sat at in 2007 (?), one of us dressed in seersucker, for that Terlato Group dinner.

Alfonso Cevola said...

synchronicity...too cool!

Darius Liddell said...

Curious to know your thoughts on Ian D'agata's book "Native Wine Grapes of Italy" and how it can help people realize (without italian's evangelizing for themselves) the undeniable richness of italian wines/grapes?

Alfonso Cevola said...

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