If traditional Italian food can do it, why can’t traditional Italian wine?

Above, from left: Professor Vincenzo Gerbi (enologist, U. of Turin), me, winemaker Michele Chiarlo, and unidentified woman, March 9, 2010, Tuesday morning in Canelli. Alfonso provided a caption and thought bubbles for the photograph, which he lifted from the Barbera Meeting Flickr feed. Alfonso’s captions are humorous, of course, but the tension was as thick as Australian Shiraz with added tannin extract. It’s never an easy to task to interpret in those situations. I was using a technique called chuchotage or whispered translation, where I would whisper translations of the questions into Professor Gerbi’s ear. Then I used consecutive translation to translate his answers. Ne nuntium necare!

The events of Tuesday, March 9, 2010, at the Barbera conference in Canelli and the heated debate that ensued have been the subject of much discussion. Perhaps the best account of the ideological arm wresting was rendered by fellow member of the Barbera 7 Cory here. (Leading Italian wine writer Franco Ziliani had high praise for Cory’s observations. And fellow Barbera 7 member Fredric chronicled the excellent luncheon here.)

Here’s what Cory had to say:

    The first event was a presentation on new research being done on pruning by a group funded by some of the bigger names that produce barbera. For those of you don’t know much about the farming of wine (i’m no expert myself) the way vines are pruned are central to the way grapes ripen, how much they produce, and how the wine comes out. Traditionally barbera has been pruned using the guyot system, (which i won’t get into in detail here). The research being done is on the spur cordon system. It’s one of those things that sounds innocuous to the outsider, but the effects on the wine were profound.

    We were told about the effects of the pruning on the acids, the tannins, the color of the wine.

    It was around this point that things began to become heated.
    Questions were asked as to why this was necessary. Do you really need to keep messing with the grape? Why would you need to control the acid in barbera?

    Isn’t acid essential to barbera?

    The answer we got was that they were making barbera… important.

Read the entire post here.

Above: During the morning and afternoon sessions, my good friend and blogger colleague Charles Scicolone challenged the winemakers directly, asking “Why don’t you make the same great, food-friendly wines you made 20 years ago?”

As the interpreter, I couldn’t jump into the debate. But as I listened and interpreted, interpreted and listened, the same thought kept rolling around my head: traditional Italian cuisine has conquered the world over; so why is it that Italians want to send modern-, international- (i.e., homogeneous-) style wine abroad? In other words, if traditional Italian cuisine can do it, why can’t traditional Italian wine?

After all, the thing that Tracie P and I love the most about real Italian wine is its food-friendliness. Whether old, regal Nebbiolo or young, bright Barbera, we look for three basic elements in the wines we like, the same three elements that make wine friendly to food: high acidity, low alcohol, and honest fruit aromas and flavors. At our house, we never serve food without wine and never serve wine without food (well, to be honest, we only rarely serve Champagne at breakfast!). Joking and clichés aside, our approach to wine can be distilled in the following chiastic aphorism (do you like that one, Thor?): never wine without food, never food without wine.

And what could go better with traditional Italian cuisine than traditional Italian wine?

In other food-friendly news…

Tracie P and I FINALLY got to spend a quiet night at home alone last night. She treated me to Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes…

Did I mention that besides being jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the girl CAN COOK? ;-)

In other news…

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of doing an online interview with Grappolo Rosso. I particularly enjoyed his request that I pair wines with songs. I really liked, if I do say so myself, my pairing for Australian Shiraz: a little Judas Priest, anyone? Thanks again, Jury! And complimenti per il tuo nuovo blog!

11 thoughts on “If traditional Italian food can do it, why can’t traditional Italian wine?

  1. I’d argue that traditional Italian cuisine hasn’t conquered the world, rather a facsimile. There are numerous exceptions…we could name handfuls of restaurants/wine bars that get it right. So not sure about how that squares with the extracted Barbera trend.

  2. Pingback: If traditional Italian food can do it, why can’t traditional Italian wine? « Barbera Meeting 2010

  3. I just got back from a Piemonte trip myself: http://livefromtuscany.blogspot.com/2010/03/piemonte-trip-part-1.html and so I have been following your Barbera Meeting 2010 blogs closely. The whole barrique/non barrique thing centered our discussions too, as did the the wine without food thing. I had to explain to some of the Italians with me the American concept of wine without food – let’s meet for a glass of wine before dinner. It’s a key piece of wine appreciation that wine educators should be explaining in the USA!

  4. Yes, I love Italian wines because they demand to be paired with food. How pathetic would I be if I just sat around drinking wine? Wine should be a part of most meals.
    A local winery Farella (of Italian heritage) makes very food friendly wines, not the overblown Napa monsters that compete with food and are made for certain critics palates. Indeed the winery’s catch phrase is “Farella with Food.” Try and hunt a bottle down if you can.

  5. I always feel like a bit of a snob out here on the west coast since I’m not into Cal wines as much as I used to be, primarily because they don’t pair well with meals unless I have a porterhouse every night. Most of my friends and our local wine stores are very Cal-centric (Northern Nevada has a bit of a no-cal wanna be vibe). I’m trying to find some American wineries that have a more Euro approach but it’s taking some time and effort.

  6. However when talking about acidity in Barbera, one should remember just how fierce this can be. One thing is taming slightly the acidic character of these wines and another is completely obliterating that zippy side, that works so well with food. Although not completely correct in technical terms but gets the message across: a wine with high acidity is one that has over let’s say 6-6.5gr/l (expressed in tartaric acidity), there are some Barberas that can have naturally over 12gr/l of acidity,now that wouldn’t do, would it ? It’s a question of common sense. I am however completely against the use of oak in Barbera.regards

  7. thanks, everyone, for the insightful comments on this post. I love that eureka moment when you hand someone a glass of traditional style wine and that light goes off behind their eyes and they just get it…

    @Hardy it always trips me out when I’m in Sonoma, and I’m eating killer, organically and locally grown food that’s been prepared with so much care and love, and then I’m handed a glass of spoofed Cabernet that hurts me…

    thanks, everyone, for the great comments and for stopping by…

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