A few years ago, on a memorable sojourn at the Castello di Brolio in Chianti Classico, the Baron Bettino Ricasoli (great-great-great grandson of the “Iron Baron” Bettino Ricasoli, who reshaped the landscape of Tuscan viticulture in the late 19th century) urged me to visit Darrell Corti in Sacramento, telling me that he was perhaps the most erudite and refined collector of Italian wine that he had ever met. The following year, when I went to make a recording at The Hangar in Sacramento (a great studio), I drove to the other side of town to Corti Brothers, the wonderful gourmet food and wine store co-owned by Darrel. When I introduced myself, Darrell produced a copy of my Maestro Martino translation (UC Press, 2005), which he sells in his store, and asked me to sign it.
Above: the erudite Darrell Corti in the wine section of Corti Brothers.
Since that time, I have seen Darrell in Sacramento and New York on a number of occasions. His knowledge of wine (and Italian wine in particular), his erudition, his mastery of Italian, and his worldliness are a model to which I aspire. Whenever I have had the chance to discuss wine with him, I come away — as if by osmosis and not by reverse osmosis! — enlightened in ways that surprise and enrich me.
And whenever I travel to Sacramento to record, I shop at Corti Brothers every chance I get: Darrell’s selection of olive oil is among the finest I’ve ever seen and the servers in his charcuterie department never mangle the prosciutto by slicing too thickly or thinly.
Darrell has been in the news lately, following an episode that has been dubbed “Zingate.”
Last week Olivia Wu published this story in The San Francisco Chronicle where she reveals that an internal memo on Darrell’s tasting policy was leaked to the press. But the fact of the matter is that Darrell openly tells wine salespersons that he won’t taste with an alcohol content greater than 14%. As Darrell has told me directly, he feels — and I agree wholeheartedly — the California “modern” winemaking style has spun out of control, with wines that have been deconstructed and reconstructed to have excessive alcohol content and flavors that have nothing to do with wine.
I loved this passage from the interview:
“Look at the description of wine today. What’s the first word? Chocolate! Wines are supposed to taste like fruit. It’s like food these days. They used to make something with three ingredients. Now the chef puts in 12 ingredients. And sometimes they cancel each other out. The same is happening to the wines.”
Thank goodness for Darrell Corti, a voice of reason in a wine world truly gone mad.
I also found this article on Zingate and Darrell, worth checking out.