Sunday, December 06, 2020

The current state of Italian wine in the world

I remember as a kid, going to a birthday party. I was living in the desert of Southern California, Palm Springs. And the parents of the birthday child were proud Mexican-Americans. The food was great (they had a fabulous restaurant), the music was cheerful, it was a fun, fun party. And to top it off, after the birthday girl opened all her presents, we all took a swing at a stuffed piñata shaped like a donkey.

When all the kids took their swing, the poor creature finally burst opened and all manner of shiny and sweet things flew about the field and we all scrambled for the treasures. I don’t know why, but that memory reminds me of 2020 and Italian wine.

Over the past year, many of us have had to look at Italian wines from a distance. Save for the few brave (or foolish) souls who ventured from America to Italy, or those who were already ensconced on the peninsula, we all have had our bottles, our pictures, our memories and our longings.

And how has that worked out, you might ask?

For myself, I see it as a reset. I have looked long and hard at what Italian wines I have gathered, which account for 75% of what sit in that cold, dark closet, awaiting their release or their rendering. Most of them are well, but ready anytime from now until the next 20 or so years. I guess one could say I’ve created my own little Italian wine oasis on this island, these islands, we all call home during this dilemma.

Yes, I have scores of pictures and films and music and all the necessary hooks to catch my attention, to not let it sway too far from the heart, this love for Italy, her wine, her food, her art, her culture. Meanwhile, back in Italy, though, nothing stands still. The grapes still grow, as do the inventories. The wine has got to go somewhere, even if we won’t be opening them up in front of a fantastic vista overlooking the Roero or the Arno.

“All travel is circular... After all, the grand tour is just the inspired man's way of heading home.”
― Paul Theroux

It seemed that, for many of us, the ease and relative affordability of air travel conferred a right that one might have taken to be immutable. An obscure virus from the Hubei Province in the People's Republic of China changed all that. The forces of destiny shattered the pandemic piñata and spilled the virus to all corners of the field, this time the whole earth, and many of us took up the bounty with ensuing consequences.

Still, many of us wax and wane (and whine) about what we’ve lost. If you’re reading this you haven’t lost the ultimate gift, that of life.

Yes, you cannot go to your favorite trattoria in Rome and drink that amazing bottle of wine with your pasta alla Amatriciana. For now. Not forever.

But the winemakers and the wineries and the works in those ventures, the lab technicians, the gardeners, the pruners, the cellar rats, the marketing pros (the ones who stand all day long, every day, behind the counter at Vinitaly and Prowein, and explain for the umpteenth time, their wine), and on and on. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of souls who rely on the orderly transition of the grape harvest from year to year, into the bottle, into the glass, moving, always moving. Not a circular grand tour, as Paul Theroux waxes elegiacally. And those souls also have to fend off the Corona pinata prizes that scatter across their world. They are not thinking about going skiing this month to Cortina d'Ampezzo or Courmayeur. No one is booking flights to Phuket Island or Tahiti, or if they are, they sure as hell shouldn’t be.

So, all this to say, what? You’ve walked us out to the end of the plank, now what are you, what are we going to do?

In reality, who knows. But with what I have to work with, right here and right now, in the present moment, here is what I propose:

Keep drinking and enjoying Italian wine, or wine, in general.

Enjoy it with your family, or your pod, for the time being.

Try not to think about the way things used to be. They were only that for a moment. And now they are something else. Deal with being in the present moment.

Drink up some of the old and rare bottles, for no reason other than you have made it through alive so far. Who knows about tomorrow? No one does.

Plan? Yes plan, but don’t lose sight of today for a tomorrow that really is indeterminable. Work with what you’re given.

Find new ways to connect with Italy and Italian wine. Read books, like the recent one by Ian D’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, or his classic, Native Wine Grapes of Italy. Or a harder to get one, like The Modern History of Italian Wine, edited by Walter Filiputti.

Watch movies. Italian movies. Old neorealism one or newer ones from the likes of Paolo Sorrentino, Edoardo Ponti, Alice Rohrwacher or Laura Bispuri.

Write to your friends in Italy. Letters, not emails. Not just zoom calls. Not just WhatsApp conversations. Write a letter and see how long it takes to get there. Those kinds of things received these days are precious, pre-pandemic gifts from the soul. Don’t just expect to receive. Give.

Whether it is olive oil or Pelaverga, mineral water or pasta, embrace all that Italy is sending to you through this time. Yes, we can’t be there, most of us, but there is not the plane that can take your spirit to the place that your spirit cannot already get there on its own. Look up, move forward, don’t look back. 

And keep swinging.



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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