Why I love Italian wine in flyover country (my Palate Press post)

Above: I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Gaia Gaja, Angelo Gaja’s daughter, was super fun to hang out with. I interviewed her over Chicago redhots for my PalatePress piece on my encounters with 3 iconic Italian winemakers in “second-tier” American cities.

Alfonso likes to call it “flyover” country: that glorious swath of land, that sweep of the scythe, those amber waves of grain that span from Chicago to the Rio Grande, the Middle West, Mittelamerika, the Third Coast, the Second Cities. In other words, the America that the Left and Right banks often ignore when it comes to the purveyance of fine wine and dining.

I’ll concede that I probably drank more old wine, thanks to the generosity of collectors, when I lived in cities like New York and Los Angeles. But, honestly, my food and wine life has only become more stimulating and rewarding since I moved to Austin, Texas. (Well, everything has become more stimulating and rewarding since Tracie P née B came into my life.)

Above, at dinner in Austin, from left clockwise: Tracie P, Dave Meyer (Banfi, Texas), Mark Sayre (my super good buddy and wine director Trio, Austin), Wes Marshall (The Austin Chronicle) and wife Emily, Lars Leicht (Banfi, whom I’ve known forever), and Rudy Buratti (winemaker, Banfi).

When I realized that I would be having dinner and tasting with 3 iconic Italian winemakers in 3 different “flyover” cities, over the course of just 5 days, I thought it would make a good piece for PalatePress (and thankfully so did the editors!).

Gaia Gaja of Gaja in Chicago, Rudy Buratti of Banfi (and newly elected member of the Brunello producers association 15-person advisory council) in Austin, and Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea in Houston.

Above: Another pleasant surprise was the 1999 Banfi Brunello (top vineyard) Poggio all’Oro, a wine I would not typically reach for (nor could afford). It was honest and delicious and it tasted like Montalcino. Great wine.

The fact is that top Italian winemakers are traveling more frequently to markets they’ve neglected in the past. I recently found out that Giorgio Rivetti (producer of the infamously created-just-for-the-American-market, jammy, syrupy, ridiculously concentrated Spinetta wines) visited Austin last month. “It’s not often enough that a true gentlemen like Giorgio spends time in Texas,” wrote one wine blogger/merchant.

This is certainly one of the reasons I’ve been lucky enough to have some interesting wine encounters lately.

But then again, as the jingle for the ol’ So Cal franchise Love’s Wood Pit BBQ used to go, when you’re in Love’s, the whole world’s delicious.

Special thanks to Palate Press editor Meg Houston Maker for believing in the piece and eagle-eye editor Becky Sue Epstein for whipping my piece into shape! :-)

5 thoughts on “Why I love Italian wine in flyover country (my Palate Press post)

  1. hey amico, just back home from a long hot day(10:30pm and 90 degrees F)on the wine trail in Italy (Texas, that is). Just finished day two with a winemaker, last week same and next week more. You might not get my big boy pants after all, but the wine in flyover country is sure improving, As is the company.Thanks amico, for the shout out, and thanks for joining us other flyover boys (and girls). We just love company especially when they become family

  2. Hi – just back from a 15 hour day on the TexaCali Wine Trail myself. I think today marked my 20ish roundtrip ATX-DFW I-35 drive year-to-date.

    Thanks for the Giorgio mention and link! I am so honored to represent his wines in Texas.

    I’d love to pull some corks with you soon, the La Spinetta wines are very different from your description these days: very elegant, balanced and full of their sense of place. Respectfully quite opposite of your current impression, so let’s plan a date to taste soon! Cheers – Ali

  3. Ali-

    that sounds like good news – I’d love to try them sometime too – as previously, my experience mirrored Dr.P’s. Hope they “got religion” back in the Langa.

  4. Funny, I had this very conversation at the SFO Airport with a random East Coast wine retailer about La Spinetta wines. He was pleasantly surprised with the “new direction”. I’m just thrilled to see them selling like crazy back in the Texas market now. I believe Giorgio began dialing the oak & toast levels back with the 2004 vintage, also less aging. When we get together I’ll bring some new Pellegrini releases too!

  5. @Ali thanks for stopping by dobianchi! Glad to see you here. I think the real issues (for me) when it comes to Giorgio’s wines are cultured yeast and concentration in the cellar (probably some RO and some cones involved somewhere along the line). I think that Spinetta offers a great product for folks who like that style of wine but I find it hard to believe that he shifted to a style more indicative of Langa (maybe the Langa of Scavino). When I think of Langa, I think Giacosa, Rinaldi, G. and B Mascarello, Produttori del Barbaresco, Brovia, Cappellano, etc.

    And listen, whenever and wherever you want to taste together, I’ll be there! just name the time and place… would love to finally meet you and get to taste with you… always admire your chutzpah and ability as a wine professional… you’re definitely one of the top folks in Texas and people admire and only have great things to say about you — across the board…

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