Sunday, January 07, 2018

So, You Want to be an Italian Wine Expert?

from the "notes to myself" dept.

We Americans spend a lot of time alone. In the car, in front of a computer, and if one is lucky, taking long walks (or runs or bike rides) in the neighborhoods, in the country or deeper in nature. The monkey mind that is constantly chattering is set aside, and peace, and eventually clarity, arises.

Over the years, my inner Carl Jung has been giving this chat to me, in order to focus my purpose in this livelihood I have been given in the wine trade. It has been an epiphany, of sorts, for me. It is raw and unexpurgated. Proceed with caution – it is not for poseurs.

So, you want to be an Italian wine expert?

Here are a few tips:
1) Spelling. learn how to spell the names.

2) Pronunciation. Italians are very proud of their names. Learn how to pronounce them.

3) Classification. Italians are also very proud of where they come from. If you’re a Sicilian wine, you don’t want to be categorized as a Sardinian wine. And vice versa.

4) The traditional wine community. Learn to embrace them even if you don’t know as much as them or necessarily like those wines. There’s a reason why these wines have been successful over the last few years. (3-4,000 years, that is). And that’s because they have timeless appeal. Whether you like them or not isn’t always the most important thing. I know it is to you, but it isn’t. A more important consideration is "balance." There is no shame in offering some of the best properties and wines from long established regions.

5) Getting hung up on certain wines. If you’re new, especially new to tasting, you might be more prone to fruit-forward high-alcoholic wines. Italians make those, but that’s not all they make. Your customers might really love those Super Tuscans and those big Brunellos, and those modern Barolos, but they also might really enjoy a nice Rossese di Dolceacqua, a Morellino di Scansano or a lovely little red wine from Puglia.

6) Italian wines aren’t only red. They are white. Learn to love them because you find a wide array of styles and expressions. From Verdicchio to Vermentino, from Etna Bianco to Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige. You’ve got to be open. Italy did not make their reputation on selling Soave and Pinot Grigio. Yes, there are some lovely Soaves and Pinot Grigios.

7) Orange wine - Learn to crawl before you run. Then learn to walk, before that. Orange wine is not for the crawlers. It’s not for the runners either. It’s an eddy on the stream. Sure, there are some interesting experimentation going on there, and it’s a good laboratory, workshop for other expressions, but it isn’t the be-all and the end-all. Don’t get hung up on that stuff. Period.

8) Franciacorta is the new God. Oh, so you don’t love Prosecco? Great. You are only going to push things that people won’t recognize, so that if they had something that they would recognize, i.e. be in their comfort zone, they might actually buy it? So you are forcing them to buy something they don’t like? Great. Franciacorta should be the whipping boy on this? For God’s sake, have a decent Prosecco to show. There’s nothing wrong with it. There are a lot of really good producers there. They are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given (in terms of the popularity). Yeah, there’s a lot of really crappy Prosecco out there. Just like there's a lot of crappy everything. But find the best of the best. Don’t get hung up on Franciacorta being the only sparkling wine from Italy. There are also sparkling wines from the Alta Langa, from Trentino. There are also producers all over the place, from Mt. Etna to Abruzzo to Tuscany, that are producing really good quality grower's sparkling wine, if you will. Yeah, you like that term, grower, don’t you?

9) While we’re on the subject of Etna, everybody’s jumping on the Etna bandwagon. That’s great. have you ever been there? Do you know how small that region is, in terms of production? And it’s only producing about 10% of what it used to produce, in its heyday. In fact, there’s not a lot to go around.

Part two of that is: Travel. Go around to other parts of Sicily (and Italy) as well. Go to Vittoria (just stay away from the hospital there). Go to Avola. Go to Noto. Look around Trapani, look at the wines from the islands that ring Sicily. Lipari, Salina, Pantelleria, Mozia. There’s that small-batch Grillo made on that island that was first settled by the Phoenicians. Get into this stuff. Yes, Etna is wonderful. We love it! Etna, again, is not the be-all and the end-all. It is one expression, that’s very exciting right now. And it’s a very small star to hitch your wagon to. You’ll be disappointed, because there’s not enough to go around.

10) Let’s talk about Chianti.

Oh yeah, it’s really fashionable now to pooh-pooh Chianti. And you know they put themselves in their own position. They make about 1/10 of the wine that Bordeaux does, and Bordeaux doesn’t even get anywhere near close to having the identity problems that Chianti does. Now Bordeaux does have problems, but not like Chianti does. Chianti, they shot themselves in the foot. So what are you going to do? You’re going to kick somebody in a foot that’s already got a gunshot wound? Stop it, be an adult. Grow up! Find some great producers. There are great producers. Whether it’s Rampolla, Badia a Coltibuono, or Volpaia or Felsina or Fontodi or Castello di Ama, or you name it. And that’s Classico.

While we’re at it, Chianti isn’t just Classico. If you talk to the people in Montespertoli, they’ll tell you, “this is where Chianti was born.” Well, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s their point of view. Consider it. One thing for sure, they’ve all been making wine longer then the US of A has been around. Same thing with Rufina and Montalbano. Great producers out there. Some of the nicest expressions of Chianti. This is the kind of stuff that will get people interested in this category again. Not putting some silly old Sangiovese in a wicker bottle and claiming this is the latest “must have” hipster wine.

11) Get out of your monkey mind occasionally. Your head is filled with chatter and noise, assumptions and presuppositions. And all kinds of traps that will prevent you from experiencing Italian wine as it is. Yes, you like wines of a certain style, that’s great. Congratulations, we all do! We all have preferences. But if you’re going to be an Italian wine expert, it’s incumbent on becoming an Italian wine expert to know a little about a lot of different things, whether you like them or not. Did historians like what happened during WWII? They still delved into it, to discover all the different subtleties and ironies and nuances of that epoch of history. Same thing with Italian wine. Keeping yourself closed off to something will close you off to your greater expertise. You never know what you’re going to see, or find, or taste, or love, that you didn’t know that you loved before.

Oh, you want to know more about Italian wines? You want to be adroit in Italian wines? Learn about other wines of the world, whether they are from Germany or France or California or New Zealand or South Africa or Portugal or Spain. Balance. Perspective. A world point of view. Experience. This is what makes you an expert. If you are able to know why this particular Italian wine tasted like this in relationship to why a particular French or Spanish wine tastes, it gives you a better way to express your expertise. And – Taste. Taste. Taste. (Make notes, you'll never "remember" it all) .

And lastly – Italy (and America) is filled with experts. Approach expertise (and mastery) with humility. It will serve you well – and you will serve better. For, as Bob Dylan sings, "you're gonna have to serve somebody."

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Bicchiere said...

So You Wanna Be a Rock'n'Roll Star?
Too late... anyway, I'm your fan!

Marco Mammalucco said...

Lots of stuff to chew on here. Invaluable insights and advice. You're the man!

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