Antreprima

I guess one advantage to jet-lag is waking up early. At least when you want to be productive. Here it is, 6.30 am in New York and I don’t even have to be at work until 9.30. And for a prosecco tasting at that. So who’s got some breakfast/coffee place recommendations out here? None of that cappucino/latte shit either; those will only bring with them a nostalgic sadness for the real thing. Too much to bear in the morning. Drip, which we Americans seem to have returned to with a scientific ferocity, is where it’s at in the country. I’m sure there’s a happy medium to be found here, so, any thoughts New York readers? I need some caffeine, stat!

Meanwhile, the round of anteprima tastings I attended in Tuscany went rather well. Aside from growers from these regions presenting their latests commercial releases to gatherings of trade and press, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Italian organizational ability here stayed true to form, and while certain things for the most part were very precise (logos, for one), much of the day’s schedule was left open to interpretation. Once you actually knew where to be and at what time, the laid back nature of each event was quite pleasant.

The Chianti Classico Collection, Chianti Classico’s anteprima event, was held at the ex-Stazione Leopolda, an abandoned 19th century train station a the west end of Florence. Packed with events, artwork and tables of producers pouring their wines, the setting in a reclaimed industrial space had an air of Critical Wine about it. Unfortunately I never had the chance to ask the organizer if that was the case, or if she knew abut CW.

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There were over 320 wines to taste at the Chianti Classico event, and this was organized in one of two ways. First, and this is what I preferred, there was an area set aside (like above) for focused tastings. Each table was divided into four stations consisting of glasses, a spit bucket, two bottles of water and a catalog of wines. You used the catalog to select the wines for tasting and then handed a list with their numbers to a sommelier who would then bring the glasses to you. Producers were present in the next room over to pour their wines directly, but that very quickly turning into a public tasting zoo. And while there were no Hawaiian shirts (these don’t leave the US apparently), I preferred the first method.

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(Above: my work station before the onslaught)

It sounds like overkill but it actually worked. And as there were normale wines from 2006 and 2005 to work through, plus riservas from 2005, 2004 and even 2003, the service method allowed one to think unhurried through a tasting strategy. The tastings in Montepulciano and Montalcino later in the week followed this plan as well, though obviously with a focus on different vintages depending on DOCG rules for new releases. At Montepulciano, we tasted the 2005 Vino Nobile, selezione wines from 2004, 2003 and 2001, and the riservas from 2004 and 2003. Montalcino was dedicated to the 2006 vintage of Rosso (which I didn’t focus much on) and the awkward 2003 Brunellos.

While I found great wines in each region and from various vintages, I want to try not to generalize too much here. Chianti Classico is capable of wonderful wines that speak to its identity; some of these new releases, while good, seem to have lose sight of their origin. Maybe they’re just young and this is an odd time to taste them. Still, as I came away from the tasting, I couldn’t help but ask myself what does it mean to make Chianti Classico anymore?

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(Above: I wouldn’t have minded a spin around the vineyards of Montepulciano in this early 70s Renault 4)

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was more confusing, although again, there were some delicious wines. This lovely DOCG has it all: rolling hills, generations of growers, a particularly regional clone of sangiovese, and an amazing medieval city standing watch over the vineyards. Unfortunately it’s sandwiched between Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, meaning that’s it’s both often overlooked in favor of the the other regions, or tries unsuccessfully to imitate them. The best wines here were, to my palate, those made as traditionally as possible in large Slavonian oak botte old enough to be in high school. I visited one such producer whose historical cellars are right in the center of Montalpulciano–right under it in fact, built a couple stories down into the city’s 11th and 12th century defensive walls. I couldn’t help but think that the best direction for this region might be found by looking inwards.

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(Above: the view to the west from Montepulciano)

On to Montalcino. The 2003 Brunellos–which, I believe, are the last major releases of this vintage from any high-calibre table wine appellation–were tough to go though. Besides simply being to young to drink, many showed signs of suffering in the heat, producing either cooked, jammy fruit flavors or showing high alcohol levels. Some were downright awful. And then there were some good ones: from sites that grew at high elevations, from growers who engaged in hyper-rigorous fruit selection, or from those with older vines that have a knack for responding to what nature throws at them. It’s not a vintage to write off, but I’d taste a few of them first before committing to a bigger purchase. As for the great stylistic debate between ‘tradtional’ and ‘modern’ wines, the 2003 vintage, to me at least, seems to amplify those differences, so if that means something to you, then you know what I’m talking about. And based on a few cantina visits I made, there’s much to look forward to in the 2004s.

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(Above: sunrise in Montalcino with the moon still lingering around)

And now, about that coffee…

Real Italian Wine

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Gruppo Vini Veri, a loose organization of Italian wine producers who are part of the growing natural wine movement, have announced the dates of their 5th annual tasting, April 3-5, 2008. As usual, it’s staged during the VinItaly trade fair in Verona; however, the Vini Veri producers very much consider their event–and movement–to be an alternative the bigger, busier show that is VinItaly. They are an interesting group of winemakers–not all are organic, nor even Biodynamic–but they are keen to respect the traditions of their zones and maintain a character in their wines that is unique and expressive. Eschewing international varieties in favor of indigenous grapes, working with the yeasts native to their vineyards and wineries, and a commitment to a minimal use of sulphur are among the tenets of their Vini Veri manifesto (every Italian organization needs a manifesto).

VinItaly itself is worth going to, but you can bet I’ll attend the Vini Veri tasting–and probably Critical Wine, too. There’s a lot to do in Verona come April…

Details:

5th annual ViniVeri – Vini secondo Natura
at the Villa Boschi
April 3-4-5 2008
Thursday & Friday from 10 to 6; Saturday from 10 to 2

For a complete list of participating producers, along with individual producer profiles, go here (Italian only).

Italy’s Critical Wine

Jeremy Parzen over at his excellent blog, Do Bianchi, posted a piece I wrote earlier this year for the magazine’s April issue on the Italian organization Critical Wine. (You can read it via Do Bianchi here). It’s part of a thread he picked up on in his fascinating post ‘Anarchist Wine‘ a couple days ago. There he links back to my dear friend Alan, who attended a recent conference which involved Critical Wine at the Leoncavallo centro sociale in Milan. (Read Alan’s account here)

Whew!, that’s a flurry of links and threads. Anyway, I wanted to point this out because I find Critical Wine–and movements like it–to be an important part of the contemporary Italian wine world. And, as Jeremy points out, much of that world is something that few Americans ever fully see; we’ve swallowed too much of the silly romantic Italy to comprehend the country and the complexities of its culture. Although from what friends say, and from my own experiences in Italy, few Italians both paying much attention to these things anyway. But maybe Critical Wine, or at least organizations and events like it, can help get that dialog started. And judging from the recent blog response to Critical Wine, maybe that dialog is already underway.