Scavino vs. Produttori del Barbaresco: a political allegory

One of the cool things about what I do for a living is that wine (sales) reps will often offer to “taste me on” their wines.

Last night, I was catching up with one of my clients here in Austin and a rep asked me if I’d like to taste the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by the “father” of modern Langa, Paolo Scavino.

It just so happened that I was drinking the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, one of the stalwarts and standard-bearers of traditional Nebbiolo.

Even though I can’t say I’m a fan of the Scavino style, I thought that both wines were showing great.

The Scavino had that trademark cherry cough syrup note (easy to identify even when tasting this wine blind) and I was surprised by how tannic it was (citing second-hand sources, the rep told me that Scavino is declassifying some of its best fruit, otherwise destined for its Barolo, and using it for this wine; after tasting the wine, I believed him). It was elegant and focused and it had good acidity. While I just can’t get around that cough syrup flavor, I can see why people like this wine and why it does so well in restaurants.

The Produttori del Barbaresco was all classic, all the way. Bright and light on the palate, this wine leaned more toward berry fruit with a balance of earth and the cooperative winery’s signature acidity keeping all the other elements in check. Tasting it side-by-side with the Scavino, I couldn’t help but note that the Produttori del Barbaresco has very little tannin in it. This softness, combined with the acidity and clarity of fruit, is one of the reasons why this wine does so well among restaurant-goers (not to mention the affordability).

I’m not sure how it happened but the conversation shifted to politics. The rep is a Romney supporter and a diehard republican.

As they sat there on the bar, the wines became — in my mind — an allegory of our deeply divided country.

It’s a facile analogy, I know, but it just leapt out at me: on the one side, a nineteenth-century cooperative of farmers united by a priest in a hilltop village, a bottle of earth and berry fruit, ever true to its original mission; on the other side, an old Langarola family who had led the charge of modernism in the 1990s, abandoning the traditions of a bygone era and delivering a hearty, tannic wine that tasted of cough syrup, slick, polished, and refined, well intentioned and honest no doubt, but detached from the place whence it came.

“I guess you don’t like cherries,” said the rep when he noted that I preferred the Produttori del Barbaresco with my meal.

“Cherries are fine,” I said, “but the wine’s just not my speed.”

“Fair enough,” he said.

As far as I know, he made a “placement” last night.

I guess that in Austin — the little blue town in the big red state — there’s room for both.

20 thoughts on “Scavino vs. Produttori del Barbaresco: a political allegory

  1. I read the article and honestly I have more disappointment then words.

    Having said I respect a lot the work that Produttori del Barbaresco does, I think this post revels that the significant difference between Barolo and Barbaresco region has been unfortunately ignored..

    I know I don’t have to defend or justify our wines. They do it themselves, through the trust and appreciation of our affectionate clientele in several years and more than positive evaluations of other notorious and respected wine critics.

    Wine is absolutely subjective and I accept, respect you do not like our wines.

    I think it’s miserable and disrespectful the political comparison. And I do not accept anybody gives our wines a political, religious, racial and so on belonging since anybody is entitled and you Jeremy obviously do not know our belief or work.

    I’m more than proud of our history and unique personality that our wines have always had, since the beginning, proving consistency in our philosophy and interpretation of Nebbiolo. I esteem a lot my father Enrico, courage, ambition, freedom of thought carried on in 62 years of hard work respecting and honoring this land and our marvelous grape varietals. I do think he gave a precious contribute to the Barolo history.

    I’m happy there is space for everybody. I wish this achievement was always possible and respected in all circumstances. I believe democracy embodies this concept.

    Best regards,

    Elisa Scavino

  2. Elisa I am so proud and impressed by the gracious restraint in your eloquent reply. Far too many people think that because they have an opinion – and it is nothing more than that – just one person’s opinion, that they can expand to another realm that they also know nothing about. I vehemently disagree with his commentary about Scavino Nebbiolo but decry his absurd self-gratifying attempt to make a political statement, one that is not original as it is an obvious rip-off of the ill-conceived agenda of the director of Mondovino. His temerity validates his ignorance – this man knows nothing about you, your father or your family yet he would pretend just to fuel his pontification. Forza Scavino!!!

  3. I was just in Alba a little more than a month ago and visited both Scavino and Produttori del Barbaresco. I tasted through each producers lineup. I found both to be distinctive, beautifully made wines. Using either of these wines to make a political analogy is classless. I’m not sure what the author’s PhD is in, but it obviously has nothing to do with wine, graciousness or style. For future reference, it’s better to take higher ground, or none at all.

    Kevin M. Vogt, Master Sommelier

  4. Elisa, thanks for taking the time to read the post and for your thoughtful comments and insights here. You’ll note that I have high praise for your family’s wine (and I know the wines very well). And, of course, I’m keenly aware of the differences between Barolo and Barbaresco, have traveled to Langa many times, and have tasted both appellations methodically for more than a decade.

    Having said that, I have (and had) to add that I’m not a fan of the wine. It’s just not my speed. And as you note, that’s my right. And as you should know, my blog is a place where I post my own opinions and impressions.

    Allegory is a literary figure. It has been used since the time of Aristotle to convey meaning greater and deeper than that which lies on the surface of things.

    To readers of my blog, the allegory was surely immediately apparent. (One of the reasons why I noted that it was facile.)

    In the U.S., there are people who watch Fox News and there are people who watch CNN.

    There are people who read the Wall Street Journal and those who read the New York Times.

    There are people (nearly half our country) who voted for Romney and those (a slight majority) who voted for Obama.

    And there are people who like classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and people who like old world European wines.

    The allegory I saw before me was more about recent political events than it was about your wine (which, again, I praised mightily).

    I think it’s great that you are engaged in social media and I am very happy to see you here. And if you’d like me to come visit you and taste with you, I’ll be in Langa in a few weeks. I’d be happy to come visit you.

    Don, as for you and your vitriol, everyone is welcome to post here. I only ask that the snarkiness be kept to a minimum. And of course, you’re always welcome to post whatever you want here (I’ve seen much worse, believe me).

  5. I stand by my defense of Elisa and her family. And I assure you that my comments while perhaps not as gracious as Elisa’s are far from vitriolic – please note I may have assailed your post but others targeted your credentials and integrity. (As an MS who posted stated: “Using either of these wines to make a political analogy is classless. I’m not sure what the author’s PhD is in, but it obviously has nothing to do with wine, graciousness or style.” )How is it that you feel free to demean the Scavino family yet feel above critique in reply? You needn’t worry about future comment from here – I was drawn here because I thought you were out of line in making grandiose judgments about a lovely family that you know nothing about.

    If we can get above the sniping I suggest that politics is a sufficiently polarizing and embittering sport and perhaps best left out of wine blogs. I wish you well.

  6. No Barrique…No Berlusconi…
    Political comparisons….it’s been said before. No one thought “he” was classless…….

    Non California wine drinker.

    Would it be an “miserable and disrespectful comparison ” if Mr. R had won? Demeaning a family by not agreeing/liking their style of wine…give me a break

    Understand with beautiful daughter where your thoughts are coming from….have one just graduated from college…facing job prospects….what we have left for our children????

  7. Jeremy: you’re a terrific intellectual and social genius. But every time you mess with the global/local wine issue, you manage to piss off someone. Just stick it under some rug and rejoice in what you love, not in what you don’t.

    I don’t understand the attraction of langhe (except in some vintages Sottimano’s). For the money, I think there are far more interesting nebiollos from Lombardy and Valle d’Aosta.

  8. It seems to me here that Jeremy was simply noting that there are divides in this country, be they stylistic preference or political preference. I didn’t feel as though he was aligning each wine with a particular party in his allegory. Just noting that a difference exists (and he especially called attention to the facileness of his observation).

    In fact, I think there is something to be said that the wines he compares are relatively close together, when you look at the big picture. He’s not chosen to compare cult Cabernet to Chinon. Just two wines with a shared history that veered in slightly different directions.

  9. I really don’t see how drawing a political parallel here is offensive.

    And if it’s Romney that’s offending the Scavinos, perhaps they misinterpreted. In my reading, the “conservative” wine surely is the Produttori (sticking to the past). The “progressive” wine surely is Scavino (hope and change).

    Perhaps Mr. Vacca should be the one grumbling here ;)

  10. This is totally unnecessary, and truly a storm in a wine glass. Jeremy owes Scavino a gentleman’s explanation, if not apology — “I didn’t mean it”, better followed by “sorry”. And perhaps to Produttori too. Wine is emotion, is amore and amonia, as I heard good old Franco Biondi Santi say in his Il Greppo estate 2 months ago. Such political allegory doesn’t belong to honest wines.

  11. This is one of the strangest discussions about wine that I have ever encountered. The world learned to disassociate politics (as well as personal behavior) from art a long time ago for every reason – we can all think of dozens of examples. Though we can not, and should not, attempt to sever “culture” from “agriculture”, I don’t see how politics is part of this at all. And for the record, whether one is a proponent of traditional, modern, or something else, the Scavino family has for many years stood as beacons of integrity, class and quality in the Langhe.

  12. Guys, I’m really sorry here but this has got out of hand.

    Enough, already!

    No one is forcing you to read my blog.

    There is no separating agriculture and culture, farming and politics. Anyone who says that they aren’t inexorably linked is selling snake oil.

    If you read the original post, you’ll note that I say the wine is excellent but that it just isn’t for me.

    My blog is about my life… it’s not about Scavino… I was simply reporting a situation that struck me as an allegory.

    I’ve written here and I’ve written privately to Elisa asking her if I can meet her this weekend in Langa. She’s not responded here or privately.

    That’s a pity because I’d love to get her impressions and share them here.

    Everyone is welcome to post whatever they like here. And I welcome all of your thoughts and insights (and you’ll note that no one is ever censored here; does anyone remember what Joe Dressner used to write here when he was with us?).

    No one forces me to watch Fox News. If you don’t l like what I have to say, then don’t read my blog. Simple as that…

    And Seth, your line about disassociating art from politics is simply sophomoric. Did you somehow miss the twentieth century?

    • Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear. My point is that while we collectively need not, nor should not, ignore the context within which art was created, or the politics/religion/personal views of the artist, we collectively do not, and should not, allow these considerations to influence our evaluation of the quality of that art, nor our capacity to enjoy it. Otherwise, Wagner would not sell out the Met, and Chris Christie would not listen to Springsteen.

      I am sorry that my comment so upset you, and it was not intended to be critical of your point, merely to suggest a different way of evaluating it. In any case, I do not recognize anything in my words to merit such a hostile response.

      • Seth, I apologize for sounding hostile. And thanks for sharing here. I appreciate your POV (however much I disagree). And you are always welcome to post here (on any topic).

        John Lennon once complained about how many times they asked him about his famous “love letter” to Paul McCartney, “How do you sleep?”

        Writing and recording a song, he said, was like writing a letter. It was how he was feeling that day, he explained, but not how he feels every day.

        I have been blown away by how many people have reacted to this post when it was just a simple observation of what was happening around me.

        I’m also disappointed that Elisa has ignored me since her caustic remarks.

        But, hey, that’s cool, too…

        Thanks for being here and as you well know, always geeked to taste with you when you come through Austin… The Bric del Fiasc is on me! (Is it available in Texas?)

        • You didn’t write anything that should anger Elisa – I think you made it clear that you respect her work and her wines. I’m curious though about why we disagree about art; when you admire a Picasso does the fact that he was a misogynist detract from its beauty for you?

          • Nietzsche wrote that he’d rather touch a Polish Jew than read the New Testament (the line is found in the Twilight of the Idols).

            While I don’t think that he was the anti-semite that his family and then the Nazis would have liked, I think his anti-semitism was intrinsic to the fabric of his world, the same way that Picasso’s misogyny was a sine qua non.

            I can’t imagine my own personal poetics without either of them…

  13. So it’s intrinsic to your appreciation – I think we don’t disagree as much as it seemed…I’ll take you up on that bottle of Barolo for sure, but let’s make it something with a month or so of skin contact.

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