Glera, “the name is horrible but…” #Prosecco

best prosecco glera

Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, and Vouillamoz, Ecco [HarperCollins], London-New York, 2012) is an oenographic watershed, an unrivaled ampelographic achievement.

And it’s also an expression of the Zeitgeist.

One of the more stunning contributions of Robinson’s new book is the authors’ impressive scholarly approach to the origins of grape names.

We, the oeno-aware, are part of a generation that pays more attention to ampelonyms (grape names) than any that came before us.

Here on my blog, as I have tried to debunk the many erroneous folk etymologies for Italian grape names that appear over and over in wine books, wine journalism, and wine blogging (e.g., Sangiovese and Aglianico, among many others).

Most of these folk etymologies can be attributed to spotty scholarship and the lack of interest in ampelography beyond the world of viticulture.

The bottom line is that until our generation, the wine world — grape growers, winemakers and bottlers, and ampelographers — weren’t particularly interested in the origins of grape names.

But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know the why and where of grape names.

As Nietzsche wrote (particularly in The Twilight of the Idols), human nature drives us to attribute meaning to every sign around us (he was a precursor to post-Modernism in this regard). We are compelled to align the signified and the signifier. We need to understand why things have their names. This is one of the reasons that we find so much pleasure in etymology, even when faced with the hard fact that etymology and philology are intrinsically inexact science.

As wine has played an increasingly important role in popular culture, our interest in the origins of grape names has grown accordingly.

I have been particularly impressed with the Wine Grapes entry for “Prosecco” (pp. 853-854).

Here’s an excerpt of what the editors, who do not refrain from editorializing, have to say:

Prosecco, “[t]he dominant, rather neutral grape for Prosecco sparkling wine, probably Istrian,” they write in the entry’s subtitle. “Misleadingly renamed Glera for commercially protective reasons.”

    As part of the promotion of Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene to DOCG status and the enlargement of the Prosecco DOC zone in 2009, the Prosecco Consorzio set in motion an official name change so that this principal grape variety is known as Glera, its supposed Friulian synonym, and Prosecco is reserved for the designation of origin, effectively preventing producers from other regions or countries taking advantage of the name Prosecco to designate any old sparkling wine…

    This amendment is both confusing and misleading: Glera is a generic name applied to several distinct varieties in the province of Trieste, and recent studies have shown that Glera in fact usually refers to Prosecco Lungo and much less frequently to Prosecco (Tondo) and other local varieties from the Karst region such as Vitovska, or the non-cultivated Aghedone and Mocula.

With this entry fresh in my mind, I asked Prosecco producer Luca Ferraro (whose English-language blog I curate) to share his thoughts on Glera.

“The name ‘Glera’ is horrible,” he told me, “But…”

Click here to read what he had to say.

Tarallucci e Vino (biscuits and wine), an attempt at documenting the proverb

From the “una faccia una razza (one face one race)” department…

Above: Generic however delicious taralli served to us in Apulia at the Radici Wines tasting.

It all started back in June when Jancis tweeted: “Best inter-wine nibble ever: taralli from Puglia.” For three days, we had been sitting next to each other tasting and scoring Southern Italian wines at the Radici Wines festival in Apulia.

It was our last day of tasting together and one of our Italian counterparts (I can’t find the tweet) quipped back, tweeting “Finiamo a tarallucci e vino,” literally, “we finish [the tasting] with [small] taralli and wine.”

The irony in this context is owed to the proverbial meaning of the expression in Italian. To end with tarallucci [an affectionate diminutive of taralli] and wine means to resolve a dispute by pretending there were no dispute to begin with. In other words, we argued, we disagreed, but let’s have some savory biscuits and wine and pretend that there is no acrimony between us.

While the saying can be applied to express the sentiment that all’s well that end’s well, it can also be used ironically to denote that I believe you’re wrong but there’s no use fighting about it. (The sentiment and expression are by no means unfamiliar to Italians or those who frequent Italy and Italians; it’s often used in Italian journalistic parlance to allude to the hypocrisy of Italian politicians.)

Above: Taralli probably share a kinship with Greek koulouri (I believe the unleavened biscuits in the photo, tasted at Boutari’s Santorini tasting room, fall in the category of koulouri in the Hellenic culinary canon).

Not much is known about the origins of the term tarallo. The Cortelazzo (Zanichelli) etymological dictionary notes that the etymology is obscure, possibly from the Latin torrere, to dry up, parch, roast, bake, scorch, burn. Some point to the Greek δάρατος (dàratos), a type of Thessalian bread.

I have yet to find any reliable source that addresses the origins of the expression tarallucci e vino but the tarallo’s significance as a gesture of hospitality clearly emerges in 19th century literature. It was one of the earliest street foods of pre- and post-Risorgimento Southern Italy (Pitré, Biblioteca delle tradizioni popolari siciliane, 1883) and was presented by and to travelers when they arrived. In The Bagel: the surprising history of a modest bread (Yale 2008), Maria Balińska suggests that the tarallo may be the predecessor of the bagel.

Above: Jancis and the rest of our group paired sweet taralli and spicy Sicilian chocolate with aged Primitivo at the Pichierri winery in Sava (Taranto, Apulia).

Browsing the Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, I read that the Greek δάρατος (dàratos) was a type of unleavened bread “offered at marriage and registration ceremonies” in Hellenic Greece. And I cannot help but wonder if the tarallo’s circular, adjoined shape does not belie its use as a symbol of friendship (Balińska addresses the Italian ciambella, a similarly round unleavened bread, its relation to the bagel, and the ancient custom of presenting it to one’s host). There’s no doubt that the tarallo travels well and is easy to preserve (in Campania taralli are made with shortening and are often adorned with almonds; in Apulia, they are made with olive oil and adorned with fennel seeds).

If anyone has any insights to share, I’d greatly appreciate them. As a devout philologist, I will not rest until I get to the bottom of this conundrum and we will genuinely be able to conclude a tarallucci e vino.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks to our sommeliers (219 wines tasted!)

These nice gentlemen did a truly superb job serving our “jury” the 219 competing wines we tasted for the Radici Wines festival over the last three days.

They’re all locally based professional sommeliers except for one…

Paolo Patruno (above) is a doctor and a local winemaker. He is one of the many layperson sommeliers who has achieved his certification through the Apulia chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association.

His service was impeccable and he and I talked about a wide range of topics after each session — from my Eastern European origins to his residency at a hospital in Israel (where he treated wounded Israeli soldiers among his patients), from the historic immigration crisis in Albania (across the sea from Apulia) to the current African migration, from the recent changes in the Primitivo di Manduria DOC to Apulian traditions of hospitality.

It’s my favorite thing about what I do for a living: meeting new people and learning about their lives through and in wine.

Our jury included writers and wine experts from America, England, Poland, France, and Italy.

Jancis (center) was our presidentessa (she is super cool!) and it was thrilling to taste and share impressions with so many interesting wine personalities.

Judging southern Italian wines

This morning we began tasting and scoring wines in the competitive sessions of the Radici Wines festival. We have to blind taste more than 200 labels between today and Wednesday, when the winners will be announced. All of the wines are made from indigenous grape varieties from Southern Italy.

They’ve gathered a remarkable group of judges for the media jury — Italian and international (there’s also an Italian restaurant and wine professional jury). This morning I was seated next to Jancis Robinson (she’s “number 1″ and I’m “number 2″; how cool is that???!!!). That’s Franco Ziliani center addressing the “jury” and our excellent interpreter, Marilena Balletta, who’s been doing a great job interpreting for the solely English speakers of our group (as a veteran interpreter at events like this, I can’t say that I envy her!).

It’s been great to rub shoulders with über-cool wine blogger Ryan Opaz (in the foreground, sitting to my right, “number 3″).

And I’ve also had a lot of fun horsing around with Jo Cooke, David Berry Green, and Kyle Philips. And I’ve also been enjoying sharing thoughts on Marxist ideology and Latin epithets with Maurzio Gily.

The Borgo Egnazia resort where we’re staying is pretty incredible but so far we haven’t had much time to enjoy it…

And as Alfonso can imagine, there’s no internet in the rooms…

But, honestly, life could be worse… :-)

Wine blogs you should and can’t read react to Brunello “rivellation”

Regretfully, I don’t have a subscription to Jancis Robinson’s subscription-only blog but a friend cut, pasted, and sent me a post on Jancis’s blog by British wine writer Monty Waldin (above), who commented on the Rivellation that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

    By saying that most pre-2008 Brunello was fraudulently blended, Dott. Rivella implicitly accepts that journalists such as Franco Ziliani, myself and a number of others who have consistently and publicly claimed that all Brunellos were not 100% Brunello, as they should have been, deserve at least some credit – and that we don’t ‘deserve to have our tyres slashed’, as one irate ‘Brunello’ producer told me to my face.

    We didn’t say what we said because we are anti-Brunello. Far from it. We said it because it was obvious to any wine drinker with half a brain that certain wines labelled Brunello did not always look, smell or taste as though they were 100% Brunello (Sangiovese). This was not fair to consumers, but just as importantly it was not fair to those Brunello producers – both big and small – who played by the rules, the vast majority of whom actually succeeded in making red wines with the inherent quality to reinforce the fully justified claim of real Brunello to sit in Italy’s vinous pantheon.

Another interesting pingback came from a truly dynamic wine blogger in Finland, Arto Koskelo (above), who was gracious enough to translate a post in which he reflects on Rivella’s statements (since I, for one, cannot read Finnish!).

    Don’t get me wrong, the wines may very well be excellent. But in the end the most crucial point isn’t the style of the wines nor even their quality but integrity and lack of it. If one exploits the very historical legacy the regions reputation is based on and at the same time sells it short, wine lover finds that if he gives this kind of fashion the thumbs up he ends up with one stinky finger.

Arto’s a 30-something freelance writer and wine blogger and videographer. “As you might know,” he wrote me in an email, “Finland as a Nordic country has traditionally been a beer drinking country, so we are super happy about the small impact we are making on the cultural landscape.”

Chianti and Brunello, the brand names

Inspired by that Prince of Paronamasia, Thor, I was tempted to entitle this post, “Brand on the Run”… But have you ever known me to mince words?

Above: The Castello di Brolio, site of the Ricasoli winery. The “Iron Baron” Ricasoli, winemaker and Italy’s second prime minister, re-branded Chianti in the late 19th century when he replanted his vineyards with Sangiovese. Would he recognize the wine his family makes today?

Reading Eric the Red’s brutally honest column on Chianti Classico yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder out loud: would the “Iron Baron” Ricasoli, father of pre-industrial Chianti Classico, recognize the wines that his family makes today?

Even more chilling was the thought: in the light of Montalcino’s “vote for modernism,” as Ms. Robinson put it, is Brunello heading down the same path as Chianti Classico?

In other words, will we not recognize the wines that are going to be made there 20 or 30 years from now, leaving us as befuddled as Eric and his colleagues? “Of the 20 glasses before us,” wrote Eric, “many did not look like Chianti Classicos, the designation for Chiantis made in the Chianti region’s heartland in the hills of Tuscany. Or at least they did not look the way I expect a Chianti Classico to look.”

By the time Ricasoli was purchased by behemoth Seagram’s in the 1970s, Chianti had already achieved antonomastic status in the collective consciousness of the American consumer. In other words, it had become synonymous with “Italian wine.”

I cannot tell you how many times I come across the common misconception that Italians pair pizza with Chianti. The other day, a young Sicilian woman here in Austin told me that the traditional pairing for Parmigiano Reggiano was Chianti.

As the apologetic title of the column reveals (“Tasting Report: Chianti Classicos, So Dark and Oaky, but Still Recognizable”), the wines that Eric and colleagues tasted did not resemble the wines that they expected to uncork. In fact, “Many were densely colored and dark, almost impenetrable in their blackness.”

As rumors of corporate take-overs in Montalcino abound (reminiscent of the heady Seagram’s years), I fear I see a (literally) dark cloud in my wine horizon. To borrow a phrase, from Mel Brooks, “Let’s hope for the best…” You already know the next line…

Jancis Robinson: “Syrah di Montalcino”

From Jancis Robinson’s blog, yesterday, “Montalcino votes for modernism”:

“After dramatic last-minute machinations, it has just been revealed that the secret ballot to elect the new president of the Brunello di Montalcino consortium revealed that arch-modernist Ezio Rivella of Banfi garnered most votes and will now direct the fortunes of this controversial wine.

Until very recently it looked as though the most prominent woman in Montalcino, Donatello Cinelli Colombini, would win, but at the eleventh hour, in a move that took many by surprise, she withdrew her candidacy and threw her weight behind Rivella. Concerned that this would be the final nail in the Brunello coffin, and that Piemonte-born Rivella would encourage the use of grape varieties other than Brunello (Sangiovese), veteran winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci of the respected estate Il Poggione declared his own bid for the presidency yesterday. …

It seems as though the juggernaut rolling towards the likes of Syrah di Montalcino is unstoppable.”

Monty Waldin on Decanter’s claim that Banfi has been “cleared of Brunello adulteration”

In case you don’t know him already, “Monty Waldin, a British wine writer who has been living in Italy for the last few years, is one of the best known commentators on (and advocates of) biodynamic wine growing.” — Jamie Goode

Here’s just part of what British television wine personality and wine writer Monty Waldin had to say about Decanter’s post on Friday claiming that Banfi has been “cleared of Brunello adulteration”:

    Decanter also swallowed a press release last year in which Brunello’s biggest winery Banfi declared itself as innocent — when this was absolutely not the case as the Siena prosecutor subsequently made perfectly clear. Although some (most in fact) of the wineries who were investigated have not been charged others — perhaps with something to hide, perhaps not — have taken the option of plea bargaining pre-trial (a perfectly legitimate option in Italy if you, ahem, feel you may have broken the “Brunello must be 100% Sangiovese” rule).

Monty posted his thoughts on Jancis Robinson’s pay-per-view site and Franco was gracious enough to repost them at Vino al Vino.

Read the entire post here.

Evidently, Franco and I are not the only ones outraged by Decanter’s egregiously disinformational post. Today, I’m trying to get to the bottom of what actually happened in their editorial offices. Stay tuned…