Meteorites, Terroir and a Not So Bella Italia

Friday’s linkfest happens on Saturday this week. Oh, the holidays. Busy anyone?

The sky is falling. And falling into my glass. At first glance this Wired article about meteorite impacts on the ancient Earth might not seem to have much to do with the concept of terroir. However, as I thought more about it, and of the natural forces and energies unleashed by such an impact–and, as inferred here, of the minerals and microbes delivered by those forces–I couldn’t help but wonder how meteor impacts might have influenced the geology of Earth today. And, by extension, the soils and rocks in which we grow our food: talk about cosmic forces! And if the meteor idea seems like a stretch, then certainly the biomass buildup after the extinctions resulting from the more massive impacts of the Cretaceous, has had a significant influence on our lives today. They ain’t called fossil fuels for nothing.

(Click here for the Wired article)

The fossilization of Italian culture? This excellent New York Times article about the general sense of malessere sweeping contemporary Italian society made the blog rounds this past week (e.g., here at On the Wine Trail in Itlay and here at Do Bianchi), but it’s a topic that I feel worthy bringing up again for those who haven’t read it. Today, much of what we in the United States understand about Italy and Italians comes directly from a consumerist experience, one driven as much by marketing as anything else. Indeed, the Italian brand is a powerful icon supported even by specialized guides.

But a bigger point lies beneath the surface of this article, one that I’ve seen both while living in Italy and traveling there regularly for work. To put it directly, Italian society is not adapting well to globalization. You could say that about many countries, but in Italy the challenges presented by globalization feel more acute than most modern western nations. Rapidly rising costs, backwards technology, stifling bureaucracy and an astonishing number of young people living with their parents well into their 30s are but the most obvious symptoms. The resurgence of the fascist and nationalist parties of the political right are a darker reaction that many foreign visitors miss entirely.

A couple more links on this theme, then on to the humor, I promise. Salon’s awesome blog, How the World Works, had this post about the shift of populations in the developed world to urban centers, as well the general decrease in overall populations of several Western nations. These are two of the major demographic issues faced by Italy today, and I’ve witnessed them play out in the suburban sprawl of Rome to the winding alleyways of wine towns like Avellino and Alba.

Then there’s this totally awesome Flash movie about Italy and its fellow European nations. I know, it plays with stereotypes, but it’s produced by the animator-humorist Bruno Bozzetto. I find his sharp wit and sense of satire to be quite indicative of a particularly Italian response to the challenges facing the country today.

Sweeney Todd–I can’t wait! NY Times review here.

And then, Friday’s Dinosaur Comics summed up my Christmas shopping thus far:


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.

Welcome to Spume

Late to the blog game, or well sort of. Anyway, here’s the first post to Spume, where I hope to talk about the things I don’t usually get to cover at Wine & Spirits, which besides wine can sometimes include things like music, politics and shoes. And maybe bikes. But mostly this will be about wine. And it will start to look better, too, once I better familiarize myself with all these fancy features on wordpress.

Will it get more specific that that? Probably. Being the Italian wine critic for W&S, there will certainly be a lot of space devoted to things vinous from up and down Italy. But I’m based in San Francisco which means that as far as wine goes, there’s plenty else to say.

I guess this is also the space where I’m supposed to put my manifesto. Or whatever. But like most aquarians, I’m reluctant to pin myself down with rules. So I leave it with this: I strongly believe that wine is one of the few natural connections that human society has left to this planet, and as the trappings of technology increasingly distance us from nature, the serious enjoyment of wine, perhaps oddly, perhaps not, seems that much more important. It’s a direct link to something that results from the combination of nature, earth and the efforts of man and woman, and it’s something that’s been with us humans longer than any religion that exists today. And it promotes sharing! And I guess that’s the other reason I’m doing this, to share my experiences with whomever wants to know about them.