The earliest mention of “al dente” pasta in an English cookery book? And a better translation of the expression.

Above: paccheri with seafood in Lecce province. Needless to say, they were cooked “al dente.”

The other night after Tracie made a perfectly cooked dish of fusilli al pomodoro for our daughters and me, the girls were curious about my comment that the pasta (or rather, the pastasciutta because these were dried pasta) had been strained al dente.

Although it’s often mistranslated or used a loanword in English (and especially American English), most Americans know it today to mean pasta that is slightly undercooked. As anyone familiar with home and restaurant cookery in Italy can tell you, Italians like their pasta slightly undercooked or “crisp” (see quote below).

For Italians, al dente is the baseline. Only on rare occasions have I met Italians who like their pasta overcooked. And because it’s such a commonplace expression, it’s by no means extraordinary. But here in America in recent decades, it became very fashionable to draw attention to the al dente cooking time for pasta. I don’t have any hard data on when it began to happen, but I can remember the time before the time when mainstream pasta producers began to indicate regular and al dente cooking times on the front of the box. To this day, pasta packaging in Italy simply reports the regular al dente cooking time or cottura (e.g., cottura 9 minuti or cooking time: 9 minutes).

No one really knows when al dente became a commonly used expression in Italy. There’s no doubt that it’s part of the culinary parlance today. But I haven’t been able to find any usage until the late 20th century.

Many food historians point to Ippolito Cavalcanti’s 19th-century recipe for “vermicelli with tomato” as one of the earliest instances of al dente cooking times (nota bene that Maestro Martino’s 15th-century cookbook mentions cooking time but he doesn’t indicate that the cooking time will deliver slightly undercooked pasta).

Cavalcanti, whose homecooking appendix to his Italian cookbook Cucina teorico-pratica is believed to be the first to be written in Neapolitan dialect, writes: “scauda doje rotola de vermicielli, e vierdi vierdi li levarraje…” Translation: “boil two nests of vermicelli and strain them while still very green” [Italics mine]. Most concur that this is among the first mentions of undercooked al dente pasta.

(In his own landmark 19th-century cookery book, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, Pellegrino Artusi included what would become one of Italy’s canonical recipes for “maccheroni alla napolitana” [Neapolitan pasta with tomatoes] but it doesn’t include a specific cooking time.)

An early mention of the use of the expression al dente popped up surprisingly in a British cookbook from the late 19th century by a writer named Julia Anne Elizabeth Tollemache. The wife of an English sportsman and politician, she focused primarily on biography throughout her career. But she also published what must have been a best-seller in its day, Mrs. Roundell’s Practical Cookery Book With Many Family Recipes Hitherto Unpublished (Bickers 1898).

She writes:

    It is difficult to say how long Macaroni should be cooked. Neapolitans think it more digestible when it is underdone, so that it is rather crisp when bitten, or, to use their own term, when it is al dente. As a rule Macaroni should be cooked in from twenty to thirty minutes. It should be tried with a fork; or a piece may be taken out, and if it is crisp and yet tender, and if it breaks with its own weight, the Macaroni is done. The over-cooking of Macaroni makes it into a soft, pappy mess, which no Macaroni lover could touch.

There’s a lot to unpack in that passage! But to my mind, the big takeaway is that the expression al dente must have already been in common usage in Naples at the time. As an upperclass Brit, she most likely did a “grand tour” of Italy in her youth. The fact that she refers to Neapolitans and their cooking seems to be an indication that she had visited Naples and perhaps even cooked in a Neapolitan kitchen or two during her visit or visits there.

She was active roughly a half a century after Cavalcanti published the first edition of his book. It’s plausible that al dente came into popular usage sometime between Cavalcanti and Roundell.

I still have a lot of research to do here and I suspect that there will be many fascinating layers to this onion (stay tuned).

But in the meantime, please translate al dente as underdone, [slightly] undercooked, or as Mrs. Roundell writes, “rather crisp when bitten.”

Nearly all of Italy on lockdown through Easter weekend.

Above: a view of the Po River Valley from Montorfano in Franciacorta in Brescia province (to the north of the region at the foot of the Orobic Alps, also known as the Bergamasque Alps, in Lombardy). Restaurants there have been closed for more than four weeks now. They will remain shuttered at least through Easter weekend. Image via the Arcari + Danesi winery.

As of this weekend, nearly all of Italy has been designated zona rossa or red zone. Residents in Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Lombardy, Marche, Molise, Piedmont, Trento, Puglia, and Veneto can only leave their homes for work or emergencies; restaurants are closed for dine-in service and only a few essential businesses remain open.

The following regions have been designated zona arancione or orange zone: Abruzzo, Tuscany, Bolzano, Umbria, Calabria, Liguria, Sicily, Valle d’Aosta, and Basilicata. Residents have slightly more freedom of movement but restaurants remain closed for dine-in service.

Sardinia is the only region in Italy’s zona bianca or white zone. Residents there are restricted from any type of social gathering. But they can travel from township to another and restaurants are open.

The entire country will be designated a red zone for Easter weekend, a holiday when many Italians travel home to visit family in normal years.

According to the New York Times:

    Fewer than two million people in the country have been fully vaccinated so far, partly because of late deliveries from the pharmaceutical industries, but also because of logistical problems in some regions. Italy is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world: The coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 people there, and infected 3.2 million.

In places like Puglia in the south, the new lockdown comes as residents have been enjoying increased freedom of movement and dine-in service at lunchtime. In places like Lombardy, a region now experiencing its third surge in infections (and an epicenter of the first outbreak last year), residents have already been in red zone lockdown for four weeks.

The restaurant closures continue to strain the Italian wine trade, especially among smaller-scale growers who rely on independent restaurants for much of their sales. Those wineries also depend on tasting rooms (now closed) and wine tourism (practically non-existent) to keep their businesses solvent.

After more than a year of rolling lockdowns and restrictions, winemakers there are facing a perfect storm of financial challenges with no relief in sight. Restaurants are a key element in Italy’s social fabric: beyond the economic devastation, the psychological toll of the lockdowns is nearly impossible to overestimate.

Dalla Terra CEO/founder Brian Larky and I discuss the “State of the Italian Wine Trade,” Wednesday 3/17, 10 a.m. CST WEBINAR.

Please join me and Dalla Terra CEO and founder Brian Larky for our virtual discussion of the “State of the Italian Wine Trade” on Wednesday, March 17, 10 a.m. CST/8 a.m. PST.

Click here to register for the webinar.

The event is open to all.

The event is part of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South-Central’s Taste of Italy Virtual Trade Fair, which takes place here in Houston and throughout Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with virtual tastings and meetings, March 15-19.

Click here to register for tastings.

Brian revolutionized the way Italian wine was imported and sold in the U.S. when he started his company Dalla Terra in 1989. Literally decades before anyone else envisioned an importing model that would save consumers money by working outside of the traditional three-tier system (importer-distributor-retailer/restaurateur), he began setting up regional distribution networks that allowed wineries to sell their wines directly to local vendors. Today, Dalla Terra brokers the sales of some of Italy’s most iconic wineries, including Vietti (Barolo), Casanova di Neri (Brunello di Montalcino), Adami (Prosecco), Selvapiana (Chianti), and so many more.

But he is also so much more: winemaker (he made sparkling wine at Ca’ del Bosco after finishing his degree in enology at U.C. Davis); pilot (shuttling between his home in Napa and his mom’s place in LA in his Cessna); and all-around great guy whose company and conversation I enjoyed wholly in the time before the pandemic and virtually over the last 12 months.

He’s got the right energy for this moment. Man, we need us some Brian Larky right now! And he’s going to share some of his time and insights with us next week. You don’t want to miss this. I hope you can join us. Everyone is welcome.

You know your DOC from your IGT. But what about your PAT?

The better part of yesterday’s morning was spent video chatting with my friend Stefano Albano (above) in Rome. He is the owner of VERO Traditional Italian Food. The topic of our conversation was Italy’s “PAT” designation, his company’s specialty (pun intended).

PAT, you ask? We’ll get to that in a second. But first let’s dot some i’s and cross some t’s.

Surely, you already know your DOCs from your IGTs. But here’s a crib sheet and some background for the unitiated (see abridged version below).

DOC is an acronym for denominazione d’origine controllata or controlled origin designation.

IGT stands for indicazione geografica tipica or, when translated slavishly, typical geographic indication (arguably rendered more precisely as authentic geographic designation).

Both of these designations were used in the Italian wine appellation system prior to the European Union overhaul of agricultural product designations in 2010.

Today, DOC is still used internally in the Italian wine appellation. But it is now part of a pan-European designation known in Italy as DOP or denominazione d’origine protetta. It applies to foods and wines and is rendered into English as PDO or protected designation of origin.

IGT, which like its counterpart DOC is still used within Italy’s borders for wine, has now been changed in EU parlance to IGP or indicazione geografica protetta. It is represented in English as PGI protected geographical indication. IGT and PGI are used today for wines and foods, within and without Italy respectively.

The Italians still also internally use DOCG which stands for denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita or designation of controlled and guaranteed origin. This designation isn’t recognized within the broader EU system. (The main difference between the Italian DOC and DOCG is that the DOCG supposedly — and please underline the word supposedly — requires a more stringent evaluation of the wine’s “typicity” or typicality. But that’s another story for another time.)

But what about PAT?

PAT stands for prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale or traditional [food-]agricultural product. It was created by the Italian agricultural ministry in 2000 as a means to retain the designation status of traditional food products in Italy as the EU overhaul began to take shape. At the time, it was feared that many Italian food products would lose their designation status because of more narrow criteria imposed by Brussels.

According to ministerial decree, PAT foods must be “obtained with well-established production, storage, and aging methods that are widely adopted throughout the area in question. They must align with traditional practices and be in use for a period no shorter than 25 years.”

But the Italian government left it up to the regions, with only minimal bureaucratic oversight, to determine which foods would qualify. Today there are thousands of them. Campania has the most of any region, clocking in at more than 500.

They can include meats and cheeses, animal products like honey and milk, candies and pastries, and even recipes in certain cases.

You can browse lists of the products on the Italian Wiki here. Veneto, for example, has four distinct PATs for radicchio. Piedmont has 81 PATs for meat and offal alone.

PAT is akin to but should not be confused with another little-known EU designation, TSG or traditional specialties guaranteed. It requires 30 (as opposed to the Italians’ 25) years of “tradition” and unlike its Italian counterparts doesn’t have to be associated with a delimited region.

Pizza is arguably Italy’s most well known recipe included in the list of TSG or specialità tradizionali garantite (STG). It’s made using a PDO product from Campania but it is produced all over Italy.

Stefano is a lovely man and the apotheosis of the Italian food culture entrepreneur. His company sells and exports PAT products exclusively. And he’s one of the presenters at next week’s Taste of Italy Virtual Trade Fair here in Houston, organized the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South-Central (where I am a paid consultant). To see the complete list of producers who will be presenting their wines and foods, click here. Although the deadline for next week has passed, Texan food and wine professionals can sigh up for virtual meetings and tastings throughout the month of March. The wines and food products are delivered to your doorstep and then the chamber will coordinate the virtual meeting.

Check out Stefano’s site for a wonderful list of PATs.


DOC = denominazione d’origine controllata or controlled origin designation (Italian).

DOCG = denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita or designation of controlled and guaranteed origin (Italian).

IGT = indicazione geografica tipica or typical geographic indication (Italian).

DOP = denominazione d’origine protetta. Applies to foods and wines. Rendered into English as PDO or protected designation of origin (EU).

IGP or indicazione geografica protetta. Applies to food and wines. Rendered into English as PGI protected geographical indication (EU).

PAT = prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale or traditional [food-]agricultural product (Italy).

STG = specialità tradizionali garantite (Italy).

TSG = traditional specialities guaranteed (EU).

“Hustling in every direction at 100 mph with no GPS.” An American sommelier’s story of survival.

Above: sommelier Heath Porter at the Château de Bagnols in Beaujolais (pre-pandemic photo).

Yesterday at Houston’s first in-person trade tasting since the pandemic began, a young court-track sommelier told me the story of one of her colleagues who had abandoned her apartment in San Francisco after going eight months without working. She recently moved to Texas in search of a job, turning her back on her life in the Bay Area. Her story is just one in a rising tide of top wine professionals who have faced increasingly tough life choices as they navigate the uncharted waters of a pandemic-era career in wine.

In a time when many wine professionals are discovering creative ways to support themselves and further their careers and education, I turned to one of my favorite America sommeliers, Heath Porter, for some insights into how he’s shifted his business model since covid reshaped the way we socialize and dine. For someone like Heath, who had a robust wine tour business before the health crisis began, the new normal has driven him to find new ways to stay afloat. His is a story of survival…

You were operating a highly successful wine tour business when the pandemic struck. How have you shifted your business model?

Holy crap, have I shifted! Understatement of the millennium! I’ve hustled in every direction at 100 mph with no GPS. It’s been insane. Virtual events just like everyone else, some by myself, some straight education, some with chefs and winemakers. I’ve also been able to pick up some consulting gigs and start building really cool wine and food events for high-end resorts around the country. Outdoors gigs with wine tastings, live chefs with smokers, bourbon tastings, you name it. We’ve done Swine & Wine weekends, oyster festivals, dumplings and Riesling, pizza and Champagne, you name it. If it’s fun and slightly educational, I’ve dialed it up to 11! And side note: I’m also releasing my own private wine label next month. I’m not very good at having free time.

As you dove into virtual events, what were some of the surprises about the medium?

After 30 years in F&B, if you can’t tap dance with some “snarkasm” and wit, then you’re in the wrong biz. What I quickly realized is that people need to laugh and drink wine more than ever and needed to be transported from their living room to anywhere around the world. So I started planning events with destinations, recommended regional wines and curbside from regional restaurants to support local and pair the wines with local foods. I also stuck with my guns and became more of a wine entertainer, if I can make people laugh and learn in the same sentence, then I’m rockin’ the juice cleanse hardcore!

What makes for a truly memorable virtual wine event? Any highlights from your series you want to share?

Inside stories with winemakers, tricks of the trade with chefs, seeing personalities and telling stories. I had Ken Wright the OG of Oregon wines on. I asked him who his favorite bands were and the next thing you know he was telling stories about eating dinner with Dire Straits and Van Halen. You should hear Nancy Irelan of Red Tail Ridge do her Scooby Doo impersonation with Shaggy. Really just amazing experiences, I could go on for days.

When do you think we’ll be able to start wine touring again and what’s that experience going to feel/look like?

I’m planning some tours in summer and fall to the Finger Lakes, Walla Walla, Sonoma and harvest in Santa Barbara. I’ve got some private groups trying to get to Italy with me in October. I build the bubble. We take over entire bed and breakfasts, have the same bus and driver all week and go to the wineries as the only people there when they’re closed. The trips have always been intimate but now they’re secluded as well.

Heath will be presenting a virtual tasting in Miami with one of my best friends in the biz, Lambrusco producer Alicia Lini, on Saturday, March 27. The line-up includes Alicia’s classic method Lambrusco. Check it out here.

MASKS will be REQUIRED today at Houston’s first in-person wine trade tasting since the pandemic began.

A photo from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy Houston trade show in 2018 (image via the IACC Facebook.

When the Miami-based event planning company I.E.E.M. first began discussing today’s Maremma Consortium trade tasting in Houston with the Italy-America of Chamber of Commerce, one thing was clear to everyone involved. This gathering would be Houston’s first in-person wine trade tasting in over a year, everyone on that first Zoom call acknowledged, and all parties — including attendees and staff — would need to make safety protocols a key element in the event.

When roughly 30 Houston wine professionals meet later this morning at a once popular events space, masks will be required (except when tasting) and each taster will be seated at their own table to ensure social distancing of a minimum of six feet.

It’s important to underline the fact that masks and social distancing will be mandatory: even though our state’s rollback of the mask mandate doesn’t officially take place until Wednesday of this week, many Houstonians — at least the barflies — shed their masks and began ignoring safety measures this weekend.

Once the seminar and guided tasting portion of the event have been completed, the walk-around tasting of roughly 40 wines will be divided into four tasting stations, each with a professional sommelier. Tasters will be assigned a color (using a poker chip) and then will be asked to observe social distance while tasting with their group at their assigned station. They will then be asked to follow their group to the next station. The systems is intended to avoid logjams at each station and ensure social distancing.

I’ll be the featured speaker and moderator of today’s tasting. And I’m also one of the organizers through my affiliation with the chamber. It’s not without some trepidation, tempered by hope and faith in human nature, that I’ll pull the cork on that first bottle of wine this morning. But the overwhelming response in the run-up to the gathering has been wonderfully positive and heartwarming. People want to get out and taste, we learned to our surprise when we first announced the date. And they’re ready to do what it takes to make it safe.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be a momentous occasion for all concerned.

Today, we will also spend a moment in silence remembering our colleague, beloved sommelier Thomas Moësse who died unexpectedly last month.

We will also take a moment to observe International Women’s Day, which is today.

And in case you hadn’t already seen it, the IACC is hosting its second-annual Taste of Italy Houston Virtual Trade Fair next week and throughout the month. It’s a great model for tasting safely: the food samples and wines are delivered directly to the taster’s home or office and then the IACC coordinates virtual meetings between trade members and the producers.

Please visit this link for information on who’s presenting and how to sign up.

Fabio Sireci’s astounding wines from Feudo Montoni deserve our attention.

Above: an aerial shot of the legendary Feudo Montoni farm in Cammarata township (Agrigento province), Sicily. Image courtesy of the estate.

Last night 80+ guests in Houston logged into Zoom for a virtually guided wine tasting with Fabio Sireci and Melissa Muller, legacy owners and grape growers at the historic Feudo Montoni farm in the central Sicilian mountains.

It was one of the most thrilling events in the weekly virtual wine dinner series hosted by my client Roma restaurant. That was thanks in no small part to Fabio’s wonderfully aphoristic way of talking about his wines and land. The brio of the evening was also owed tale’s from chef and cookery book author Melissa’s incredible journey: first falling in love with Fabio’s wines at her own restaurants in New York and ultimately marrying him in what is as close to a fairytale as you can get (a double rainbow appeared the day they first met on the grounds of the estate, no joke).

But beyond these two lovely, thoughtful people and the verve with which they talk about their wines and farm, the wines were what really stole the show. There is a clarity and vibrance in Fabio’s winemaking that few of his peers can even aspire to.

The Montoni farm is one of Sicily’s most unique properties. It lies inland in the mountains — not on the coast or towering above the Mediterranean on the slopes of a volcano. The vast estate is encircled by a ring formed by its seemingly endless wheat fields. Because of his vineyards’ isolation from the rest of the island, they are protected from contamination like chemical residue from commercial farms or biotype corruption (we spoke at length last night about his distinctive Nero d’Avola clone, developed through centuries of selection massale).

The high-altitude Grillo, a grape Fabio’s family has grown for generations, was deeply mineral in character, with notes of white flowers and underripe stone fruit.

Tracie and I were both floored by the rosé from Nerello, another grape that Fabio’s family has grown for generations, long before the variety became trendy. It was super fresh but also lean and razor-focused in its red and berry fruits. Delicious. And I loved Fabio’s take on how Nerello is a grape that doesn’t know whether it’s red or white (much more discussion needed on this; really interesting).

The showstopper was the cement-vinified Nero d’Avola. Fabio’s biotype makes for wines slightly lighter in color and more lithe in the glass than most wines from this variety. But it was the wine’s freshness and “transparency” of fruit (rich but not overly ripe red fruits) that really wowed Tracie and me. What an incredible wine! And that was just his entry-tier Nero d’Avola!

“Fabio says that tonight the experience was unique,” wrote Melissa after our call. “And the sensation is that the world is small and it felt as if we were all in the same house chatting and tasting wine together. The miracle of the wine is the creation of smiles and friendships and union in our marvelous world.”

It was a truly enchanting evening. And it reminded me, all over again, why I love Italian wine and why I love what I do for a living.

If you’ve never tasted these wines, search them out. Grab your favorite Verga novella and enjoy them slowly, patiently, and quietly. Savor every last drop.

Let’s be honest: Texas restaurants haven’t really been enforcing the mask mandate. Abbott’s decision to lift the requirement, while reckless, won’t make a difference.

Image via Adobe Stock.

Let’s be clear: when Texas governor Abbott issued a mask order last summer, it didn’t require all Texans to wear masks in public; it required Texas businesses to require that their customers wore masks while frequenting their places of business.

And let’s be honest: Texas restaurants, which have been allowed to offer some capacity of dine-in service for the better part of the last 12 months, have done little to enforce the mask mandate. And most restaurateurs have only cursorily observed the capacity limitations.

But then again, what could have restaurateurs actually done to enforce the mandate? While most are not reckless, people who have frequented restaurants over the last 12 months generally didn’t recognize the importance and urgency of wearing a mask. If they were hanging out in restaurants, they clearly didn’t put much stock in donning a mask for the safety of others. And after all, even with the mask mandate in place, you still needed to take the mask off to eat and drink.

Beyond the Quixotic challenges of enforcing mask mandates and dining capacity restrictions, the restaurants still open are mostly just trying to survive. When you’ve poured your life’s savings and work into a restaurant and you’re barely getting by, what are you supposed to do when someone enters your business without a mask and proceeds to order a $200 bottle of wine?

Our family decided early on not to frequent restaurants (although we support restaurants by doing take-out orders at least a couple of times a week). But I have spent time in dining rooms on more than one occasion over the last year. No one at our house is going hungry and we have little to complain about, all things considered. But the scarcity of work has forced me to take every copywriting job I can get. And sometimes, those gigs require my physical presence, whether to sample the food or take a photo of a chef or restaurant interior.

The bottomline is that restaurants in Texas have done little to enforce or even observe the business mask mandate. Even those restaurateurs who recognize the wisdom of mask wearing and social distancing have had little choice but to accept the fact that guests often refuse to wear masks. Nearly every occasion that I have spent time in a restaurant, masks were overwhelmingly “optional.” And I’m only relating my experience in Houston, a major metropolitan area. When we’ve traveled outside of Houston to visit family, we’ve seen restaurants packed with maskless guests as if there were no pandemic at all.

I believe that Abbott’s decision to lift the mask requirement is as reckless as it is myopic. But that’s not going to change what’s been happening in Texas restaurants over the last 12 months.

Italy has its first Master of Wine: Gabriele Gorelli from Montalcino.

Above: Gabriele Gorelli tasting in Chablis (image via his Facebook).

Last week, the Institute of the Masters of Wine announced the names of its 10 newest members, including Gabriele Gorelli (above), the first Italian Master of Wine.

The qualification was conferred after Gabriele presented his thesis on “Quercetin precipitation in Brunello di Montalcino. What are the organic fining options to prevent this phenomenon occurring in bottle?” (Quercetin is a flavanol that can cause wine to become hazy when it takes solid form.)

Born and bred in Montalcino, Gabriele comes from a family steeped in grape-growing, winemaking, and the culture of wine.

He is also the co-founder of one of Italy’s highest-profile marketing and branding firms whose clients include some of Italy’s top wineries.

According to his biography on the institute’s website, he also has his own wine- and restaurant-focused marketing consulting company.

The fact that Italy has its first Master of Wine is not insignificant. Many wine industry observers and trade members have lamented the under-representation of Italian wines and wineries in the curricula adopted by institutional wine educators. It’s no secret that Italy is often considered — wrongly — to be a second-class citizen in the commonly embraced caste system of international wines.

The fact that he is a favorite son of Montalcino, home to one of Italy’s most highly regarded luxury wine brands, has many Italians cheering for him and his new title.

The news of his qualification was first reported in Italy by

How Etna counters preconceived notions about fine wine.

Above: Mt. Etna, an active volcano. Note the spontaneous vegetation around the crater (image via Adobe Stock).

“Last week’s eruptions were really spectacular,” said Etna grape grower Roberto Muccifuori yesterday. “But what people don’t realize that they were just a handful of the many eruptions that happen each year.”

The recent seismic events, he noted, got a lot of attention because they were particularly dramatic. (Disclosure: I was interviewing him for his importer, one of my clients. See the post and interview here, including his notes on the 2021 vintage. Roberto works for the Terrazze dell’Etna winery there.)

“The immediate impact of the eruptions is that it scatters ashes” across the appellation, he explained. And that makes the soil remarkably fertile because “the ashes distribute abundant nutrients in the soils ”

The resulting fecundity helps to keep the vines healthy, he told me.

“There aren’t studies to back this up,” he said, “but most believe that the excellent health of the plants helps to prevent vine disease.”

As a result, growers don’t need to use fungicides as liberally as their counterparts in other appellations.

His observations brought to mind something that the noted Italian consultant Maurizio Gily once told me about his experience on Etna.

“The earth is so fertile there that it is teeming with vegetation,” he said as he remarked on how atypical that was for a fine wine appellation.

As I was chatting with Roberto yesterday, it occurred to me: most of the great appellations of the world are known for their nutrient-poor soil. In a time before the current international renaissance in fine wine, growers generally and historically planted grapes in places where other crops can’t easily be grown. When vines are nutrient- and water-challenged, they attain more vigor and produce richer-tasting fruit.

The Piedmont usage of the word bricco is a great example of this. Today, many wine professionals know the term as site-specific designation reserved for top wines. It actually means crag, in other words “a steep or precipitous rugged rock” (Oxford English Dictionary). In literature from that era, Piedmontese writers refer to bricchi (pl.) as barren, depressing hilltops where nothing can be grown. A far cry from the delicious Bric dël Fiasc we drink thanks to Paolo Scavino today!

Similarly, if you talk to the older folks in Proseccoland, they’ll tell you that before the Prosecco boom of the 1980s, Glera grapes were planted only where the soils were too nutrient-challenged to grow other crops. Today, Prosecco is one of the richest appellations in the world. But back in the 1960s, as Italy was experiencing its first post-war boom, people fled the region because of the agriculturally hostile landscape. Cartizze didn’t become a “cru” designation for Prosecco because its soils are magical. It became a top spot for growing Prosecco because you can’t grow anything else there.

Soldera (first) and Gaja (later) famously planted their Montalcino vineyards, to cite another example, in one of the most nutrient-poor areas of the appellation. The families who were already farming grapes there knew full well that other crops weren’t viable on their land.

Etna counters this model by virtue of the fact that its soils are incredibly fertile, something that Maurizio Gily was alluding to in his observations from his time on the ground there. We have all tasted astounding wines from Etna, with incredible depth, complexity, and nuance.

Frank Cornelissen once told me that the reason why he planted on Etna was because he couldn’t find anywhere else in Europe where the soils hadn’t been compromised by chemically based commercial farming. But could it be that the wines of Etna are so compelling in part because they challenge our preconceived notions of where the world’s greatest fine wines can be raised?