Fine wine legend and revered wine educator Kevin Zraly (above) led a seminar for about forty people yesterday in New York at the annual Benvenuto Brunello tasting, where the Brunello di Montalcino bottlers association previews its new vintage (2008, this year).
I managed to catch about 45 minutes of his talk before I had to head to the airport to return to Texas.
The choice of Zraly to lead the seminar was not without controversy. And some in Italian wine circles have noted that there may have been others more qualified for the gig (at least one Italian wine industry observer has ranted about the fact that Zraly has been, at times, dismissive of Italian wines).
While he didn’t really talk much about Montalcino, its history, its subzones, or its legacy in the world of fine wine, he did say that “it’s one of his favorite wines,” a category that he reaches for on “almost a daily basis.”
“It’s one of the top ten ‘value’ wines,” he said.
In my view, that’s an odd way to position one of Italy’s finest wines and most coveted appellations.
His seminar and tasting seemed to be focused more on his unique “basketball coach” approach to tasting wines and personal anecdotes from his life (he would be leading a master class with Piero Antinori later in the day, he said).
Zraly has a classic “New York” personality: he’s an intense man, who often insulted the crowd for not being more vocal in their response to his promptings.
As he put it, this was going to be a tasting of “Brunello di Montalcino, Zraly’s way.”
Stefano Campatelli (above, left, director for the Brunello bottlers association) and iconic Brunello producer Donatella Colombini (right) were also in attendance.
Donatella said a few words and Zraly repeatedly asked Campatelli for help with the pronunciation of some of the winery names.
I do think there’s something to be said for having a marquee name like Zraly on the bill for this event.
But, all things considered, he really didn’t reveal much about Brunello other than the fact that he enjoys it (and maybe that’s all that really counts here).
In other and sadder news…
Our hearts and prayers go out to the Mastroberardino family, who lost its son and brother Lucio this week (see this obituary by Elisabetta Tosi; I took the above photo of Lucio at Vinitaly in 2009).
I wasn’t a fan of his wines but I admired his work as an ambassador of Campanian wines in the U.S.
His legacy is not without controversy: his quarrel with his brother Piero (with whom he divided the family’s historic vineyards and winery) and his American-style approach to winemaking were often cited by Italian wine observers as one of the less savory episodes in the industry.
But his contribution to raising the awareness of southern Italian wine in the U.S. cannot be ignored.
And our family sends our thoughts and condolences to theirs for the loss of a star of southern Italian wine at such a young age (he was my age).