Above: the Colli Euganei, the Euganean Hills, where volcanic soils deliver vibrant fruit, earthy undertones, and lithe expressions of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
Scant attention is paid to the role that language plays in the ways wines are marketed by producers and perceived by consumers.
A key element in the success of Brunello in the early 1990s (when Banfi made sure there was a Brunello on every supermarket shelf in America) was the fact that broo-NEHL-loh is a lot easier for the average American to say than VEE-noh NOH-bee-leh dee MOHN-teh-pool-CHEE’AH-noh.
Similarly, back in the last decade of the 20th century when Americans began to adolesce as wine lovers, it was a lot less challenging for monolinguist anglophones to order a glass of Californian Merlot than it was to ask for a wine from St-Émilion.
“Waiter, waiter! Please cancel my date’s order for that bottle of Château Quinault Lafleur de Quinault and bring us some Mondavi Merlot instead!”
So what do you do with an Italian appellation like Colli Euganei? How are you ever going to convince Americans that they need to try these superb expressions of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc when they can hardly wrap their minds around how to pronounce the place where they are from?
That conundrum was on my mind as I tasted through countless breathtaking wines at the Vulcanei tasting in the Colli Euganei in May of this year, a gathering devoted to “volcanic soil” wines.
Thanks to my time spent at university in Padua not far from the Colli Euganei, I have tasted iconic producer Salvan many times over the years.
The 2008 Salvan flagship, in the photo above, is a current release for the estate. Aged in small and large cask, this blend of mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc is one of the best Bordeaux blends I tasted this year. What a wine! Rich red fruit but lithe on the palate, with earthy undertones and vibrant acidity that made the wine taste refreshing with every sip.
According to WineSearcher, this wine retails for about $25 in Italy. Why is no one importing it to the U.S.? I can’t think of a better Merlot blend at that price point — a steal! But then again, there’s the problem of the appellation name…
I had never tasted Bacco and Arianna but was floored by their wines, especially this Rosso di Bacco, a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend aged in stainless steel.
Bright red fruit flavors with electric but gorgeously balanced acidity. And wow, organically farmed and no sulfur added? This wine retails for around $13 in Italy! Why is no one importing it to the U.S.? Can you imagine how popular it would be in the natural wine scene? I could literally drink this every day.
But then again, there’s the problem of the appellation name.
Given enough time, I could have populated this post with 20 Colli Euganei wines that really impressed me at the Vulcanei tasting.
This Pinot Bianco from Vigne al Colle also surprised me with how good it was, fresh but overflowing with white flower aroma and stone fruit flavor. I can’t find it on WineSearcher but the sommelier who was humanning the station told me he believed it retailed for less than $10. Unleashed in North America, this wine would become a king among by-the-glasses. I loved it.
Why is nobody importing it? There’s that little problem about the name.
So how do you pronounce it? Even Italians can be challenged in saying the place name Colli Euganei.
I asked my good friend Francesco Bonfio, wine shop owner and Italian wine authority, to pronounce it for us. He grew up not far from the Colli Euganei and he and I visited there together in May. A Padua (Veneto) native, his pronunciation is impeccable…
Thanks for speaking Italian grapes and wines! Enjoy!