In a 1989 show entitled Le balene restino sedute (Whales, please stay seated), the Bolognese comedian Alessandro Bergonzoni (left) noted that if Sigmund Freud (center) were alive today, he would say: “Well, I sure have lived for a long time.”
Above: The Sala delle Armi or Armory Hall in the Brolio Castle in the township of Gaiole in the heart of Chianti.
Reading Carlo Macchi’s post about yesterday’s conference on the Ricasoli-Studiati Papers, held at the Ricasoli family’s Castello Brolio in Chianti Classico, I couldn’t help but wonder what would the Iron Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880, above right) say if he were alive today? Among other significant entries on Italian unification, Italian national identity, and the importance of agriculture and winemaking in the forging of a new Italian nation, the correspondence between Ricasoli — Italy’s second prime minister, one the architects of its independence, and a champion of Sangiovese — and Pisan professor Cesare Studiati contains the famed letter in which the Baron described his experimentation with “every grape variety” in his vineyards and his conclusion that Sangiovese — or Sangioveto, as it was called in Tuscany then — was the ideal grape to grow in Tuscany. (You can read my translation of the letter here.) Many claim erroneously that the Iron Baron wrote a formula or recipe for Chianti. He did not. But when he tore out international grape varieties from this vineyards and replanted with Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Malvasia, the land holders of Tuscany followed suit. If you read the series of letters between the two men during that period, you will discover that he was trying to create (and he ultimately succeeded in creating) a fine wine that could be shipped abroad. He realized that Italian wine could help to fuel the nascent national economy if and only if it could be shipped abroad. And through his experiments, he discovered that Sangiovese grown on Tuscan soil was ideal for this purpose.
According to Carlo, who attended the event yesterday, the discussion — moderated by megawatt Italian television personality Bruno Vespa — centered around the controversial expansion of the Chianti appellation. Would this have concerned the Iron Baron? Perhaps. But if he were to taste the Chianti produced by the “40 or so winemakers” who attended the celebrity-studded event, what would he say? Would he recognize his beloved Sangiovese in those wines, now dominated by Merlot and Cabernet?
I’ll let you fill in the blank…
If Ricasoli didn’t write the formula, but instead planted his vineyards with the grapes, was he acting on someone else’s direction, or his own?
This is a thought provoking post. I just tasted through the Ricasoli wines last week.
Today, Ricasoli’s wines are made by Mr. Merlot himself, Carlo Ferrini. The Iron Baron experimented with all sorts of grape varieties but he found that Sangiovese married best with Tuscany. Thanks for reading!
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