To barrique or not to barrique (and red wine with seafood in Maremma)

The 2009 Morellino di Scansano by Poggio Argentiera paired stunningly well with this medley of seafood and noodles at the Oasi in Follonica. It’s not uncommon to pair red wine with seafood in the Maremma, where Sangiovese is expressed as a lighter and more gently tannic wine than it is in places like Montalcino and Chianti.

Picking up where we left off in September… Following my afternoon with Gaia Gaja at her family’s Ca’ Marcanda winery in Bolgheri, I traveled down to the seaside town of Follonica where I had one of the best meals of my trip at the Oasi with winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia of Poggio Argentiera.

Gianpaolo and I have a lot of friends (and colleagues) in common and it was great to finally meet him in person and share not just a meal but a truly amazing meal together. (It was Gianpaolo’s son who gave Muddy Boots his nickname “Strappo,” I learned that evening.)*

Above: Gianpaolo began “weaning” his wines off barrique aging following the 2007 vintage. That’s the 07 Morellino di Scansano Capatosta in the glass. Note the dark color of the Sangiovese.

Gianpaolo and I had been in touch earlier this year after Mr. Franco Ziliani posted a great story and interview about Gianpaolo’s bold decision to stop barrique-aging his Sangiovese (and I re-posted it here).

I asked Gianpaolo what precipitated his decision to abandon barrique aging and the answer was simple.

“One day, I realized,” he said, “that I wasn’t drinking my own wines anymore. And so, I called my business partner and vineyard manager and asked him, ‘do you drink our wines at home?’ When he told me, ‘honestly, no, I don’t,’ I realized that I was no longer enjoying my own wines, however successful they were commercially.”

Above: Gianpaolo’s 2009 Morellino, which we tasted from cask, as we say in wine parlance, was aged in traditional large casks. Note how bright the wine is in the glass.

In fact, to my knowledge, Gianpaolo’s never had trouble selling his wines. Quite the opposite. This new era of his wines, he explained over the course of our delightfully long dinner, was part of an evolution for Italian winemakers.

Back in the 90s, when scores became so important and winemakers were trying to reach the American market, he said, it was only natural that we looked to that style as a model. Barriques were part of larger movement that included a number of changes in Italian winemaking (stainless steel, temperature control, and a cleaner, more precise and more concentrated style). This new phase isn’t so much as a step back as much as a “natural evolution,” in his words. He wasn’t apologetic and he was most sincere. I really admired him for his candor and I really appreciated his effort not to put a spin on this (as so many do).

Above: Chef Mirko’s moray eel was unbelievably delicious that night. Like many of the great restaurateurs of the Maremma, Mirko is first and foremost a fisherman.

And the best news? The 2009 Morellino was SUPERB with the seafood pasta above (whereas I, personally, wouldn’t have paired the richer, more concentrated barriqued wine from 2008 or 07 with it). Chapeau bas, Gianpaolo!

As one of my heroes, Danny Meyer, likes to say, if it grows with it, it goes with it!

* Gianpaolo’s children are perfectly bilingual (his wife is British). When they met Muddy aka Terry, one of Gianpaolo’s sons began calling Terry “Strappo” after making the homonymic association Terry, to tear (as in to tear a sheet of paper), strappare (Ital. to tear), strappo (a tear).

3 thoughts on “To barrique or not to barrique (and red wine with seafood in Maremma)

  1. That Strappo is a tear alright. :-)

    Did I ever tell you that my husband works for Danny Meyer? Next time you and Tracie are in NYC let’s have a glass or two at Maialino. Hopefully Terry can join us and with any luck, Alfonso will be in town too.

  2. You had me atb “One day, I realized,” he said, “that I wasn’t drinking my own wines anymore”

    Just zoomed past your place GP, on way to a meeting in EUR. .

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