Testing the waters in northern Italy
It’s the water.
Readers of a certain age will recall a famous beer commercial with those words extolling a then-popular malted beverage.
The theory being, of course, that having a superior water source somehow made for a superior beer.
I’m not sure how that works, since I never tasted the water at its source (although I had some limited experience with the final product).
However, I can attest that drinking water without chemical additives for purification, without high levels of distorting minerals or the teeth-numbing metallicity that comes from running through rusty pipes, can be a mind-opening experience.
Most Americans (by which I mean in the U.S.) drink plain tap water, of which in most cases there is nothing wrong. You can even get charged for tap water in some “gougé” restaurants, but that’s your fault. Other countries, however, more often drink bottled water, either by choice or necessity. I asked a friend, a lovely chef from Parma, why Italians predominately drink bottled water even when the tap water is safe (except on trains).
She looked at me as if not understanding the question.
“It’s because we have so many great springs,” she said at last. “Why drink treated water?” Why, indeed?
Every place you go people are opening bottled water; particularly in northern Italy, close by the Alps and the Dolomites, where natural springs bubble nearly everywhere and are tapped wherever there is room to install a bottling plant.
It’s said even Roma has good water, since it’s taps are filled by water piped from the north.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the recent Summa 2014, a gathering of winemakers held last month at the 17th-century palazzo of Alois Lageder in Magré, Italy.
As in way north Italy, where the Alto Adige (or All’ Adige, if you are local enough) snuggles against the Dolomites and pure spring water is abundant as fresh air and eye-popping scenery.
One of the first things you see upon entering Lageder’s stone-walled courtyard is the eye-catching spring filling a trough the size of a small Fiat.
The Lageder family history is intertwined with the natural water; the family summer home, Villa Lageder in the South Tyrolean mountain village of Sarentino/Sarnthein, also has a historical spring.
The wines shared at Summa reflect that freshness and purity found in the water and Lageder’s own philosophy of “respect for nature, appreciation of the surrounding environment, and responsibility to future generations.,” as his website notes.
As I wandered the two-day event, talking to wine-makers and tasting their wines, I asked them how much their wine philosophy was inspired by their personal terroir.
Many of them echoed the words of renowned Prosecco maker Primo Franco, who effused about how your mouth and palate are pampered and developed by drinking clean water.
“No question a person’s palate is better when it isn’t maltreated,” he said.
That coddling of the palate is evident throughout Summa, where Lageder’s constant spring proved an ideal way to start anew each session in the tasting rooms.