Is @WineEnthusiast biased when it comes to Italian whites? Time to cast off stereotypes

bonci verdicchio

Above: in November of last year, Steven Wildy poured this 1998 Bonci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi for Paolo Cantele, 1WineDude, and me. Here’s what 1WineDude had to say about it: “This was a stupidly good bottle of wine; earthy, oily, unctuous, citric, spicy, alive, piquant. ‘Tired’ is not a word that seems to have entered its vocabulary at any point in the last fifteen years. As impressive as how well it wore its age was the fact that its round, toasty, nutty finish felt like it was going to last another fifteen years…”

Last week, the editor of the SlowWine guide, Giancarlo Gariglio, posted an editorial entitled, “The destiny of Italian whites? Pessimist! The sink, according to Wine Enthusiast” (“Il destino dei bianchi italici? Pessimist! Per Wine Enthusiast il lavandino”).

“It wasn’t easy to keep our comments in check after we read a special edition like the one that appeared in the February issue of Wine Enthusiast,” writes Gariglio. “It included ‘The World’s Greatest Vintage Chart’: the list of the best vintages across the world. Well, if it were a joke, they could have told us on the cover, which trumpets the chart in block capitals. We purchased a copy at the San Francisco airport and we began laughing and didn’t stop until we reached Chicago, after four hours in the air.”

Gariglio goes on to lament the fact wines like Soave (“one of Italy’s greatest whites”) are broadly dismissed by the magazine’s editors as “undrinkable” beyond six years of age: “How can they write that the whites of the Veneto — as if the were all the same — are ‘in decline, maybe undrinkable’ from 2008 and beyond? This is terrible!”

The only explanation, he posits, noting that “it’s not an excuse,” is that the editors have not tasted a sufficient number of aged Italian whites.

(Click here for the Wine Enthusiast post where the editors present the list.)

borgo tiglio ronco chiesa

Above: I drank this 1999 Borgo del Tiglio Ronco della Chiesa back in October of 2013. It was one of the best wines I’ve ever had in my life.

“All those over-the-hill whites?” asks Avellino producer Lello Tornatore of Tenuta Montelaura in a comment. “Tell me where they are and I’ll go fetch them!”

It’s hard not to share Gariglio’s disbelief and frustration.

Think of all the incredible Italian whites with immense aging potential like those from Friuli, Veneto, Campania, and Marche, not to mention wines like Fiorano from Lazio or Valentini from Abruzzo.

How could I forget a bottle of 1988 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi Riserva that I drank back in 2007 in New York? It was stunning.

1999 Borgo del Tiglio Ronco della Chiesa (above)? 1994 Gaia e Rey that I tasted with Angelo and Gaia in Barbaresco in 2010? I’ll never forget how Angelo was so thrilled with the results of that terribly difficult, rainy vintage, “a surprise,” he said.

venica 1989

Above: 1989 was a superb year in northern Italy, as this gorgeous bottle of Venica Tocai demonstrated a few years ago when Tracie P and visited our good friends Giampaolo and Chiara Venica.

For the most part, the Wine Enthusiast vintage chart aligns with conventional wisdom and experience — even in regard to Italy.

But the sweeping brushstrokes that elide the great Italian whites represent a lacuna — I can’t think of a better word to describe it — in the editors’ attention to Italian viticulture.

In all fairness to them, the Italians’ marketing focus in the 1990s and 2000s was on big, American-friendly red wines.

As one (very high-profile) commenter to Gariglio’s post notes, Italians haven’t done the greatest job of marketing their white wines to English-language media.

France is uniquely positioned when it comes to its dominance in the realm of white wine. And historically, Italy has always played the part of the white step-child, even as its reds have begun to compete on an international level with the best of the French.

In his 1980 Vino, Burton Anderson compared the wines of Valentini to some of the greatest expressions of Montrachet.

But therein lies the rub: many English-language writers feel obliged to compare Italian wines to French when it comes to describing their greatness.

It’s time for English-language media to cast off the stereotypes and bias of past generations.

Thanks for reading…

21 Responses to Is @WineEnthusiast biased when it comes to Italian whites? Time to cast off stereotypes

  1. GP says:

    Grazie Jeremy, I keep telling we should do a blind tasting with influential wine people about old Friuli whites!

  2. Ed McCarthy says:

    Wine Enthusiast is the last place I’d go to for what’s happening with Italian wine, that’s for sure. The comment on Soave was laughable. I’ve enjoyed good Soaves with 20 years of age.
    A quick note on the wines of the Master, Edoardo Valentini. IMO, they are among the best white and rosé wines of the world. The reds are not bad, either!

  3. Bravo Jeremy! Finally someone is lashing out at the stupidity that Italian whites are only for drinking at the beach or on your deck. I had a buyer recently ask me how the 2014 vintage of Verdicchio is drinking.

    It’s a long time now coming to start to highlight and serve those lightly aged red *and* white wines whose varieties really shine after a few years in the bottle. We all love Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Riesling; it’s time for Tintilia, Verdicchio, and Timorasso.

    Isn’t it the sign of a great wine list to contain dabs of some non-luxury back vintages that are drinking great?

  4. On a trip to Soave a few years ago I tasted a number of wine that were 10 to 20 years old and all of them were in perfect condition.
    See my article http://charlesscicolone.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/soave-one-of-italys-great-terroir-based-wines-and-it-can-age/
    The Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi Riserva from Bucciis is a great wine and I always drink the older vintages when I am it Italy. The Trebbiano from Valentine is one of the world’s best white wines and it is a wine that needs to age. There seems to be a lack of research and taking the easy way out when it comes to Italian white wine

  5. Georgios Hadjistylianou says:

    Jeremy nice one…. Bravo.
    Ed now you are talking….. Bravo 2

    1. In my book although I love Burgundy and enjoy some gems from time to time with friends of which one of them is extremely generous, but from what I read from many sommeliers I don’t recall a PMO on an Italian white, rather we are complaining about the Burgundies. Having said that I will continue buying and enjoy white Burgundies.

    2. If we don’t have a track record on a wine, how can we say is done, unless there are serious issues and faults. Wine CLOSES and often COMES back, where the only way to know is to be tasting it every 1, 2, 3…… 6, months a year etc….Tasted many wines where they were supposed be be drunk “fresh” and not past a year and when even tasted them blind to the producers that crafted that very same wines were stunned once they realized that was there wine and it was 2, 3, even 5 years old.

    3. As far the wine enthusiast………. mmmm! LESS IS MORE mies van der rohes (1929)

    4. How can the government allow “a magazine” blasphemy about a country’s white wine industry, and not just any country…… One of TOP IN WINE, production, culture, history, tradition, quality in all levels. A public apology should not be acceptable. If someone does that to another person and is found guilty that he/she will be penalized, well. Someone at the “magazine” has ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE ABOUT ITALIAN WHITES,

    5. I beg the great producers of Italy in one way or another to block Italian wines to be reviewed from this point on by wine UN-enthusiast. This should not be a “let it go” issue.

    Where shall I begin in Italy from Bartolo & Maria Teresa MASCARELLO, Giacomo CONTERNO, Josko GRAVNER, Elisabeta FORADORI, Frank CORNELISSEN, Bruno GIACOSA, Damijan PODVERSIC, Salvo FOTI, Stanko RADIKON, Giampiero BEA, Titta CILIA & Giusto OCCHIPINTI, Giulio GAMBELLI, Arianna OCCHIPINTI, Giacomo TACHIS, Francesco RINALDI, Giuseppe RINALDI, Teobaldo & Augusto CAPPELANO, I mean there’s no justice hear, the list goes on and on and on…..

    Just some names that quickly came up.

    Last but not least
    wine enthusiast NON GRATA and also
    the editors of the wine enthusiast PERSONAE NON GRATAE

    Bless you all
    Ciao Jeremy, I owe you something as well as Maria Teresa & Allan, I’ve been a little lazy. You’ll get it (medium)

  6. last night we opened a 2006 livio felluga terre alte. not tired, not even drowsy. more for us. but i agree, Italy needs to step up their white wine consciousness raising efforts in the new world

  7. Joe Godas says:

    Excellent post. One of the top wines I drank in 2013 was a brilliant 2006 Sauvignon from the Russiz Superiore estate in Collio. One point I disagree with however: It’s not just English-language writers who feel compelled to compare great Italian wines with French counterparts. I just returned from a tasting trip in Piedmont and Franciacorta, having visited Conterno-Fantino, Marcarini, Cascina Bongiovanni, Einaudi, and Ferghettina. As excellent as the wines from these producers were, EVERY ONE of the growers/vignaioli used the word “Burgundian” when attempting to describe the more ethereal characteristics of the Baroli, and of course Champagne was invoked as the reference point for the Franciacorta wines. As a buyer for a large wine shop who regularly travels and receives visitors at the store, I can say with certainty (but with no malice) that It’s the growers themselves who also continue to make comparisons with the benchmarks of France
    benchmark comparisons with France/benchmark comparisons, whether it’s necessary or not.

  8. Joe Godas says:

    Sorry for the copy and paste typo at the end :)

  9. Do Bianchi says:

    thanks for all the insightful comments here… and thanks for reading… as I pored through my notes, I realized that there are so many great aged Italian whites I’ve tasted over the last few years.

    Alfonso and Wayne, remember the 1997 Terre Alte from magnum? that wine was incredible…

    Ed, Charles, and Georgios, I’m with you all the way!

    Ernest, I love the note about the 2014…

    Joe, no doubt… France is always the white elephant in the room (excuse the pun).

  10. Expert Reviews
    95(+?) Points | International Wine Cellar , July/August 2011
    2006 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
    “Bright medium red. Explosive aromas of crushed red cherry, raspberry, exotic flowers, minerals and incense. Like liquid silk in the mouth, with penetrating floral perfume and lift thanks to strong acidity. Wonderfully floral, gripping sangiovese with intense sour cherry and raspberry fruit carrying through to the juicy, extremely long finish. Reminiscent of a top Chambolle-Musigny, and built to reward aging.”

    Once again, the best wines from Montalcino should taste like Burgundy even if they are made from a different grape? Just checking to make sure I got the Expert Review thing down correctly.

    • @Joe and Greg: I feel one of the problems is that Italian producers, for the most part, think of teritorrio instead of terroir, cru, or other specific geographic-niche designations. Territorio is great and holds lots of stories and tradition but it loses the unique cache a cru vineyard designation holds or a village. I remember trying to convince Roero producers that cru vineyard designation were important if they wanted to compete with Langhe and they didn’t feel that was the case.

      The other problem is that Italians are much more insecure about their agriculture heritage (maybe Piemonte is an exception) than the French. So, mutanda mutandis, Italians find themselves as vignaioli proud through French nomenclature.

      And, of course, all my yakking here doesn’t even touch the fucked up DOC/DOCG system that most of us (I think) could care less about.

      Maybe, in reformulating that tired mantra of “Italy is so great! It has 1000′s of varieties,” to differentiating 10-20 great, not merely cute, varieties, vignaioli could find themselves proud on with their vineyards without French analogies.

      We’re heading to the vineyard, but the road is backwards through those special 10-20 outstanding varieties.

      Maybe Renzi has some suggestions ; )

  11. Ed McCarthy says:

    Just a postscript to my previous comment about Wine Enthusiast’s deficiencies re: Italian white wine reporting. Now that Kerin O’Keefe has been appointed Italian Wine Editor, I expect a big improvement in Italian wine coverage in the Enthusiast. Kerin is extremely knowledgable about Italian wines; and I personally know that she, along with myself, Tom Maresca, Jeremy Parzen, and Charles Scicolone, to name a few writers on Italian wine, all realize that the better Italian white wines do age well. All of us have consumed them for many years.

  12. Matt Paul says:

    +1 with Ed’s comments on Kerin though any publication with such vintage charts is hard to take seriously, do people actually use them?
    I agree that Italian wineries need to do a better job of promoting their white wines. They need to use the best cork (often the culprit in spoiling ageworthy whites), or better still screwcap (see Jermann Vintage Tunina, Franz Haas Manna, Kuenhof). More importantly, I’d like to see the wineries keep some back in their cellar to age and prove this theory wrong. Recently I’ve had lots of mature Soave from Pieropan, Fiano from Villa Diamante and even the odd bottle of Collio Pinot Grigio (admitedly forgotten about in the cellar) that were all stunning. And none of them needed to be compared to vini Francese!

  13. John McIlwain says:

    Great post, Jeremy. It’s a shame when received wisdom is passed on without review or consideration. In French wines the idea that Muscadet and Beaujolais are exclusively wines of the moment until fairly recently robbed oenophiles of the chance to cellar and enjoy what well made examples of both have to offer with age.

    Best,
    John

  14. Antonio C. says:

    Hi Jeremy, as usual among the recent Italian wine taster at WE or TWA i see a lot of superficiality (see the recent post from M. Larner about 2009 Brunello and 2012 Rosso!!) they judge without any knowledge. Just to speak about Italian whites recently tasted:
    1996 Gini Soave Salvarenza, 1999 Villa Bucci Verdicchio, 1999 Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino, 2001 Greco di Tufo B. Ferrara Vigna Cicogna. All greats, despite WE weote

  15. Susannah says:

    Interesting post starting from Giancarlo’s on Slow Wine although no one seems to mention it here except for you. I think we’ve all had fantastic aged Italian wines from the North and South of Italy but it is true that producers themselves, on the whole, aren’t making their job any easier by comparing themselves to the French at every turn. I think it is also part of the US culture to think whites must be drunk young so really education is the problem, on all sides. This piece is a nice companion one to Giancarlo’s that perhaps can advance that education.

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