Along with many of my online colleagues, I spent most of a week recently in New York City for VINO 2010, Italian Wine Week, sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission and promoted as the largest Italian wine event held outside of that country. The regional sponsors of Vino 2010 were Tuscany, Apulia, Calabria, and the Veneto.
The week was full of seminars and tastings and “Buon Giornos” as you met literally hundreds of wine producers, wine writers and critics and thousands of fans of Italian wines. Some of my colleagues have written excellent blog articles on their experiences, so I’ll share some blog sites and some dialogue on ones I’ve found most entertaining.
Susannah Gold at Avvinare wrote eloquently about her good friend and excellent winemaker Susanna Crociani of Montepulciano. Crociani makes a delightful Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG and several other lovely wines, including a wonderful Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC. You can read that post here.
The two Susanna(h)s were panel members for a seminar on the impacts of social media (Twitter, Facebook, and blogs) reaching out to the estimated 80 million or so “millennials,” those between 18 and, what, 28 or so. This generation of wine drinkers already is using social meida more than any other generation and the people who will direct the path that wine writing, drinking and conversation will take in the near future.
Other members of the panel included Alder Yarrow of Vinography,Doug Cook, Head of search at Twitter and founder of Able Grape, Steve Raye of Brand Action and Anthony Dias Blue. You can see the panel here, but you have to wade through a commercial before the panel video begins, and then you should fast-forward a few minutes to get past the crowd shots.
I attended a seminar/guided tasting on wines from Calabria led by Italian Wine Guy Alfonso Cevola. Titled: “Gaglioppo the Great: The New Generation Of Southern Reds”, the seminar featured 11 wines, not all of them Gaglioppo, along with a producer or representative of each wine. Among the wines were some made with Malvasia Nera, Greco Nero, Magliocco , Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Calabrese and two grapes new to me, Arvino and Lacrima Nera.
The next day, the inestimable Charles Scicolone led a tasting on the wines of Apulia, of which he wrote eloquently on the i-Italy site here. What I hadn’t realized until spending an afternoon with Charles at Cipriani for a tasting is his intense dislike of barriqued wines. He prefers wines that aren’t hidden by oak and it was illuminating to see how precise his palate was in detecting oak overtones in what otherwise seemed pretty nice wines.
As he mentioned, he sometimes has to hold his tongue when talking to winemakers. He played the discretion card several times during the Apulian wine seminar, where several of the wines were heavily oaked, which overrides the natural flavors of the wine.
Charles also mentioned that his wife Michele’s newest cook book, “The Italian Slow Cooker,” is out and doing well sales-wise, which reminded me of Michele’s article on the seminar entitled “Italian-American Food…Why Don’t it get NO Respect?”
As she notes in her blog, it was the only seminar in three action-packed days that focused on food. Tom Hyland in his Reflections on Wine blog wrote both a food-related column and a general view of VINO 2010.
And that should be enough reading for now.
A recent blog discussion on organic wines by Susannah (Avvinare) and Terry Hughes reminded me how some Italian winemakers I met at last spring at Vinitaly talked about the pull between organic and biodynamic wines and the desire to make so-called “international” style wines that appeal to the U.S. market.
While some Italians are adopting organic winemaking, or at least publicizing their existing organic winemaking, in efforts to add more U.S. market share, others go that way because they think it’s better for the land, themselves and their wines.
Other winemakers admit their wines wouldn’t be possible without modern technologies including pesticides and fertilizers.
One argument is that “organic’ winemaking is little more than a marketing phrase since Italians (and European winemakers in general) have been using what we now label either organic or biodynamic techniques for centuries.
It’s only since the development of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and the like that more-traditional methods of winemaking have been noticed to be less-intrusive, which some people consider organic.
During last spring’s Vinitaly, Susannah Gold introduced me to young (mid-30s) winemaker Alberto Tanzini of Roccapesta. Roccapesta is in the Province of Grossetto, about 100 kilometers south of Firenze and about 20 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast, where Alberto and his wife Maggie (Margareta) make only two wines, both Sangiovese-based versions of Morellino di Scansano.
One is a “typical” (his words) Morellino with 96 percent Sangiovese and 4 percent Ciliegiolo and the other a Riserva (100 percent Sangiovese) aged for 36 months (24 in French oak, 12 in bottle) before release.
(My notes from our conversation at Vinitaly say he also producing an easy-drinking wine called Masca that is 85 Sangiovese and 15 Ciliegiolo but that’s not mentioned on the Web site.)
Albert came to winemaking in 2004, issued his first vintage in 2006 and plans a trip to New York (where else?) to sell his wines.
“An Italian selling Italian wines to Italians should be easy, right?” he asked, none of us knowing at the time the world economy was about to sink faster than the Lusitania.
But my point is Alberto uses some pretty traditional techniques – manually green pruning, harvesting and even an old manual press – along with modern equipment, including steel tanks and the latest French oak barrels, to make his wine.
“We are a combination of the old and the new,” he said. “It gives our wines a wildness. We make our wines in the vineyard, not in the office.”
His wines are reminders that traditional methods of winemaking can co-exist with new technologies, producing lovely wines that taste of the province and the winemaker’s love for his craft.
The week of VINO 2010, called by the Italian Wine Commission (and anyone else who experienced the Grand Tasting at the Hilton) as the largest Italian wine show outside of Italy, brought hundreds of producers together with …, well, not enough distributors and importers.
Don’t think the D and I folks weren’t there, they just weren’t buying much. The soft economy, a broad improvement in Italian wines and the difficulty of simply finding something new, something exciting enough to replace what already is out there, made it hard for the hopeful among the winemakers to go home with any sort of contract.
Paul Whitby and Eric Brunson of Dancing Bear Cellars in New York City spent the week tasting and re-tasting hundreds of wines, but at the end there weren’t any containers heading their way.
“Right now the market is saturated with wines and my stores aren’t buying,” Whitby said. “People just aren’t looking for stuff right now.”
Which is saddening when you meet dozens of wine produttori seeking some entry into the American market, even though the U.S. already absorbs 30 percent of the Italian import business, according the Italian Wine Commission.
“I make good wines, I just can’t get them in the States,” more than one winemaker lamented. So at the end of the week they pack up one more time, carrying a few bottles home and hoping the world economy improves by the time VinItaly rolls around in April. Maybe spring will be the chance to start over.