Thursday, April 19, 2018

Vinitaly 2018 - Impressions and Epiphanies

For my first time in 34 years, Vinitaly was an exploration of a different kind. While, previously, I have attended as a tradesperson, now I am free to go wherever I want. Thanks to Ian D’Agata and his generous network, I went to in-depth tastings, enjoyed lunch, sitting down, like a civilized human being and had access to the best bathrooms at the fair (not a small thing). But the real epiphany was what I stumbled upon, wondering as I wandered where my feet led.

Sicily - I ran across Ciro and Stef Biondi under the Sicilian big tent and tasted with them. Within minutes the conversation veered into philosophical territory (my doing). The new wines are brilliant, the name change (from Chianta to Pianta, thanks to the Chianti mafia) on one of the cru’s is fine (per Ciro) and what I sense about Etna is that the window is rapidly closing on any kind of naive actuality in regards to Etna being this undiscovered, and heretofore, untouched spot for wine worshipers. Etna has more than been discovered, although in no way has it yet become fully Burgundized. We can still afford Pianta and many of the marquee wines from the Etna zone. But the days of innocence are long gone. The marketers have moved into the neighborhood. There will be blood.

Calabria however, is still feral and wild and wonderful (with no aspersions to those who are making the highest level of quality wines found across the Straits of Messina on Etna). Two producers I tasted with, Francesco De Franco of  'A Vita and Sergio Arcuri of Azienda Agricola Bio Arcuri Sergio. These are Ciro producers, and I tasted their red and rosé wines. A Vita wines are focused, vibrant and full of flavor, while remaining true to the Gaglioppo character, with some lively fruit tannins that make for a mouthwatering (and food begging) wine. Sergio Arcuri wines are a bit more wild, reminiscent of their origins, and welcome to this palate. The wines bring me to a place that I recognize, not just from being there, but also from a time before I remember. De Franco’s passito was a wine from my grandmother’s memory, locked inside some cellular anamnesis within my core. It was wonderful, took me back to life before mine, and that is something a wine can do if you are open. A vinous vision (with thanks to Ole Udsen).

Along the way, I tasted wine from Pessac-Leognan (a comparative tasting with their alto-Borghese Bolgheri cousins. I had the chance to test my hopeful speculation in regards to Italian wine influence outside the borders of Italy. In fact, I asked a high ranking Bolgheri insider if indeed the wines from Bolgheri had influenced their Bordelaise colleagues. His answer? “The French, in influenced by us? I don’t think so. They appreciate the exchange, though, they are relationship driven.” I wondered if that was a diplomatic response or if the idea of relationship can be independent from influence. I have no evidence that the two are autonomous from one another. So, indeed it was a gracious response in which one can draw their own conclusions. I found no evidence of influence from Bolgheri in the wines of Pessac-Leognan, though. So much for my burgeoning theory.

As with any extended stay in Verona, one will be eventually exposed to Amarone. And as the Tommasi family hosted our writer’s klatch, we were generously exposed on more than one occasion to Amarone and how a traditional style can age, as well as the evolution of winemaking. In the case of ageing, one goes back in time. With evolution, one looks forward to the most recent, to see what has become of the thing being studied.

I’ve felt for some time that aged wines aren’t all they are cracked up to be. I know with older Italian wine that the storage (and winemaking in general in 1958) just wasn’t as good as it is today. The good old days aren’t the days of old – it is now. And for young wine lovers (and collectors) this is a great time to stow away some of the new wines coming. The 2013 vintage of Amarone is quite lovely, as is Brunello, Barolo and Aglianico del Vulture (just some of the ‘13’s I tasted during Vinitaly). This is your golden age.

My new/old discovery – Freisa. The Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini Del Monferrato asked me to lead a master class they called “Discovering Freisa, ancient grape of Piedmont, and its versatility.” Having had a little experience with Freisa over the years, I thought the day before to go around the Piedmont pavilion and taste a few. What I found were few producers who had the wines to show. One producer Fabio Alessandria of G.B Burlotto, in the Langhe (not in the Asti Consortium) poured me his and his mother volunteered a little history of the wine (its ups and downs) as she has witnessed it in her life. It’s so funny, how a wine disappears and then someday it pokes its head out and becomes a "discovery." Freisa was consumed in great quantities up to about the 1960’s. and then other things started taking its place, like Barbera, and the globalization phenomenon. All the while, Freisa stayed in the back ground, supplying international varieties with some local context, as it was often blended together. But Freisa is not a wallflower wine. I really must say no more, as this is a blog post on its own. But it was like opening King Tut’s tomb and finding something that had been overlooked all those years. The folks in Asti/Monferrato are making lovely Freisa wines, once again.

The organization of Vinitaly, this year, was probably the best I have seen in my 34 years of going to the show. The lines were, to this introvert, manageable. The crowds were sober, which shows real vigilance in keeping out the riff-raff. And the bathrooms were plentiful and clean (for the men. Cannot speak for the women, but I would hope they were as good). And the wines have never been better.

Italian wine is something to be proud of – they are inventive, varied and with so much of their real nature. Organic methods are becoming the standard, not the exception. Oak ageing is not out of control like it was in decades’ past. Use of alternate energy sources (solar, notably) is on the rise. And the young generation is kicking in. You can feel their youthful exuberance, I really wish, in some ways, I was just about 20 years younger, so that I could actively witness the evolution that we will see in the next 34 years. That said, with a mother who lived to be 102, I quite possibly will. Now that’d be a real kicker!

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Marco Corigliano Calabro said...

"Cosa diranno di te tra cent anni." Good to hear that you got to use the best bathrooms and that the Italians have cleaned things up at Vinitaly. Thanks for the links to the two producers in Cirò. I will ask my retailer if they can bring some in.

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