A Night on the Town with Charles Scicolone

Above: Charles Scicolone, Italian wine maven* extraordinaire (right), with Stefano Campatelli, president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino at I Trulli. Charles was the keynote speaker at this year’s Benvenuto Brunello vintage tasting, where I had the chance to taste bottlings going back to 1979. Charles had tasted them all before, of course!

Week before last, I was the guest of my good friend and Italian wine maven Charles Scicolone at a collector’s dinner at Gramercy Tavern. Charles is often to invited out by top wine connoisseurs: he is without a doubt one of the city’s most adored wine personalities and one of the country’s leading experts on Italian wine. The bottomline? He’s a lot of fun to be around and people want to know what he thinks of their wine.

Above: the dinner opened with a 1976 Château d’Yquem and foie gras. Not too shabby… “Sweet without being sweet, dry without being dry,” Charles remarked.

I first met Charles back in 1998 when I was writing about wine for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. At the time he was the wine director of I Trulli in Manhattan and most nights you would find him talking to guests about wine in the restaurant’s wine bar. My office was only a few blocks away and I soon found myself glued to my seat at the bar nearly every night after work, tasting through flights of Italian wines and trying to glean every tidbit of knowledge I could from his glib insights.

Above: the star of the night was this beautiful magnum of 1985 Échezeaux by Remoissenet Père e Fils.

Beyond Charles’ encyclopedic knowledge of Italian wine and his humorous and highly informative anecdotes, what intrigues me the most is his palate and his “memory” of Italian wines and vintages. Charles began collecting fine Italian wine in the 1970s when there were only a handful of Italian collectors in the U.S. He was part of an informal group of early Italian wine connoisseurs, an illustrious clique that included Lou Iacucci, who was among the first to import fine Italian wines to North America, and Shelley Wasserman, author of the landmark Italy’s Noble Red Wines, one of the first significant monographs on Italian wine published in this country (originally released in 1985; see Frank Prial’s review of the paperback edition).

A steadfast defender of traditional-style Italian wine and an outspoken critic of barrique aging and concentration, Charles has tasted wines and historic vintages of Italian wines that I can only dream of. More significantly, he has had the opportunity to revisit many of those bottlings on repeated occasions.

He began to taste and experience Italian wine long before barriqued, extracted, highly alcoholic, fruit-forward wine became the prevalent style in Italy. Where homogeneity now reigns, Charles remembers a glorious mosaic — from the Aglianico of Campania to the Petit Rouge of the Val d’Aosta (two of his favorites). Simply put, Charles has insights into Italian wines that few of us will ever have because he began drinking and enjoying Italian wines before the veil of modernization was draped over Italy.

È sempre un piacere
, as you like to say, Charles, it’s always a pleasure to taste wine with you.

Check out Peter Hellman’s profile of Charles in The New York Sun.

In recent weeks, Charles has been contributing to IADP. Check out his articles.

* maven, from the “Yiddish meyvn (plural mevinim) expert, connoisseur,” from the “Hebrew mēbîn person with understanding, teacher, participle of hēbîn understand, attend to, teach” (OED, online edition).

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