Italy’s “no” vote and Italians’ certain uncertainty

roman-ruins-italyA lot of people have asked me to share my insights into Sunday’s referendum on political reform in Italy and the implications of the Italians’ resounding “no” vote. (In case you’re not following the New York Times, check out this recent coverage of the fallout from this week’s vote, an overview of why it could prove to be a pivotal moment in Italy’s new future and the stability of the European Union and its currency.)

On my last visit to Italy, the first night I was in the country in early November, I was invited to a dinner party at the home of a successful hairdresser. The 8 or so guests (give or take a few that stopped by to say hello) were all progressive middle-aged professionals, people more or less my age and like me. Naturally, they grilled me not for dinner but on my thoughts about Donald Trump and could he possibly be elected president?

As in many Italian homes during dinner, the television was on full-blast throughout our repast. There was a lot of coverage of earthquake relief (central Italy has been struck by a series of major earthquakes this year and many ill-prepared hilltop towns there have been devastated by the powerful seismic activity). Art historian Salvatore Settis (whom I knew during my Scuola Normale and Getty days during grad school) was on, talking about his new book, If Venice Dies. And of course, there was coverage of the December referendum on constitutional overhaul.

When I shifted the conversation from Trump to the referendum, the table fell silent. Not one guest at the dinner party wanted to break the brio of the evening by unleashing polarizing, divisive thoughts and feelings on the subject. Amen. And so it was.

According to most accounts, youth unemployment in Italy continues to hover at 40 percent. When we complain about the lack of job opportunities for young people in the U.S., we often don’t realize that our outlook is much rosier than for nearly all of our European counterparts. And Italy, where economic recovery from the years of the financial crisis has yet to take hold, is facing challenging times ahead.

I work in and write about Italian wine, but my life in Italy brings me into contact with people there from all walks of life (thanks to the many years I lived, studied, and worked there). Among my peers, the only people I see who are thriving are those who have created their own small businesses. Most of the people I went to school with enjoy job security (mostly in publishing and marketing) but many are deeply disheartened by their inability to change their economic status or provide greater economic mobility for their children.

I even have a few friends who are postermen for Italian mammismo. The only difference is that, at 50 years old (like me), living with your mother is no longer cute.

The economic challenges of middle-class life in Italy have been weighing on my peers and counterparts for more than a decade (the seeds of the current status quo go back to the demise of the corrupt socialist coalition in the 1990s). This seemingly unsurmountable intractability was likely what prompted the silence that fell over the table when I asked my dinner companions to share their thoughts about the referendum. Better to embrace the brio of the moment than to bust open the fears and insecurities that brimmed beneath.

On Sunday night, after the results of the referendum were clear, a good friend of mine wrote the following on his Facebook. He’s a successful winemaker who also works in a political lobby for farmers and grape growers.

Listening to [Massmo] D’Alema laughing on the radio, saying that today was a great day, with the Elio e Le Storie Tese song “Land of Persimmons” in the background, makes me realize that we are definitively SCREWED [sic] as a nation.

Happy Monday to all the people who will continue to break their backs to make their businesses succeed, to all the people who are creating jobs as they try to show foreigners that we are something more than the “Picturesque Country” in [actor and comic] Enrico Montesano’s “English Lady” [skit].

I’ve embedded the videos of the song and the skit below. His mood, I believe, is representative of many successful middle-aged Italians who view the EU and constitutional reform as vital to Italy’s future.

The populist movements, on both the far right and far left in Italy, see the outcome of this week’s vote as an opening for their agenda (although a streamlining of the Italian parliament, which would have been set into motion had the result been “yes,” would have also opened political channels for Italy’s rising populist parties).

To understand the implications of the vote and its probable legacy, see this New York Times piece, “A New Wave of Popular Fury Could Hit Europe in 2017.” In it, Alissa Rubin writes:

“The political demise of Mr. Renzi, the Italian prime minister, and his reform agenda removes an unabashedly pro-European leader who had hoped to ignite economic growth by ending an era of crippling budget austerity. Instead, he may be remembered for creating an opening for politicians who are openly hostile to Europe and the euro.”

Renzi’s fall could very well usher in an era when Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement enters into the mainstream of Italian politics (again, see the Rubin’s piece for the Times). It’s probable that Grillo will call for a referendum on leaving the Eurozone (the first step in leaving the EU). If Italy, a founding member, were to leave the EU, it’s likely that the union would collapse.

It’s hard for me to believe there would be a moment in my lifetime, let alone my children’s lifetime, when the future of the EU could be in question. But then again, I never thought it possible that a populist candidate like Donald Trump could be delivered to the White House on a fundamentally bigoted platform.

The one thing that is certain about the results of Sunday’s vote in Italy is uncertainty. So many Italian wine bloggers love to quote the famous line from The Leopard: “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” Scarcely do they know the portent of this utterance in the historical context in which it was first spoken and its deep-reaching relevance today.

In the wake of this week’s vote, maybe it’s more fitting to say: everything needs to stay the same so everything can change.

Amatriciana for Amatrice: Slow Food founder calls for restaurateurs and diners across the world to support Amatrice in year-long campaign

best amatriciana recipeAbove: my friend and client Tony Vallone’s Amatriciana here in Houston.

In Italy yesterday, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini proposed that “every restaurant in the world” serve Amatriciana for the next 12 months and donate €2 for every dish served directly to the Amatrice municipal government (see bank info below).

The village of Amatrice (AH-mah-TREE-cheh), known for its production of salumi and its celebrated Pasta all’Amatriciana (ah-MAH-tree-CHEE’AH-nah, long noodles dressed with tomato sauce and sautéed guanciale, cured pig’s jowl), was virtually destroyed in this week’s devastating earthquake in central Italy.

Petrini’s proposal, “A Future for Amatrice,” is a long-term fundraising initiative intended to provide sustained aid to Amatrice and its residents even after the “emotional wave of the moment has passed,” he wrote in a statement released to mainstream and social media.

Here in Houston, my friend and client Tony Vallone was already a step ahead of Petrini: yesterday, he began setting aside $2 for every dish of Amatriciana he serves (above) to be donated to Italian Red Cross relief efforts.

Ammado is the official micro-donation for the Italian Red Cross: here’s the link to donate.

You can also donate through the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (another client of mine). The Chamber is taking donations through PayPal and will donate funds collected to Italian Government relief efforts.

And if you want to send money directly to the Amatrice municipal government, here’s the bank code provided by Petrini in his statement: IT28M0832773470000000006000.

The destruction of Amatrice and a string of picturesque hilltop villages in this week’s catastrophe is a tragic loss for the Italian people and the world at large.

See the op-ed published this week by political commentator Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times.

“And in the space of just one summer’s night,” he writes, “Amatrice is all but gone.”

A FANTASTIC trattoria in Trastevere (Rome) and a Befana to burn

Notes from the eternal city…

best trattoria trastevere romePosting in a hurry this morning for Rome before our group of writers heads to Salento for wine tasting, eating, and touring for three days.

But just had to share the tip: dinner at Tavernaccia in Trastevere last night was phenomenally good. No website but here’s the Google place page.

Not only did we eat one of the best spaghetti alla gricia I’ve ever had but we also had what we unanimously declared the best roast suckling pig in history.

Excellent wine list with lots of natty Friulian.

Thank you to Hande and Theo for turning us on to this amazing place. Some of us cried… it was that good. And the price was ridiculously affordable.

befana italy burnThis morning, my college-days buddy Steve shared this photo from Prato della Valle in Padua (my old stomping ground).

That’s the Befana, the witch who comes on the night of January 5 each year to bring children presents or lumps of coal. She will be burned later today, sweeping out the old and welcoming the new year.

Here’s the Wiki entry to learn more (really interesting to read up on the tradition’s origins, btw).

That’s all I have time to post this morning. Stay tuned!

How much does an Italian speeding ticket cost?

speedy ticket italy costIt finally happened to me: yesterday I received a snail mail from a rental car agency in Italy informing me of an administrative fee ($50!) they had charged me for a forthcoming speeding ticket from the Italian police.

They sent me a copy of the ticket but not the final fee. I’ve surmised that I will be charged a penalty for paying late (if you pay after 60 days from when the citation was issued, you are assessed a fine; you get a 30 percent discount if you pay with five days, it says).

I’ve done a lot of driving in my life. Between touring with bands and traveling for wine work, I’ve clocked a lot of miles over the years.

I’m an extremely cautious and defensive driver and I make a point of never speeding — even in Italy (just ask Giovanni or Paolo). The last time I got a speeding ticket I was 19 years old (nearly thirty years ago!).

But back in May of this year, a speed camera captured me over the limit in a little town in Tuscany. I must not have noticed that I had entered a 50 km per hour zone.

In looking around the internets this morning for information on Italian speeding tickets and fines, I found this page of the Italian State police site (those are the police who drive blue cars and where blue shirts as part of their uniforms).

But the information hasn’t been updated since new (higher) fines went into effect in January of this year.

The best and most recently updated page I could find was this one on an Italian legal blog.

Here’s my English summary of the fines relative to the speed over the limit.

Up to 10 km/h over the speed limit: €41 with a 30 percent increase if the infraction is committed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Between 11-40 km/h: €169 (and three points “subtracted” from your driving record; although I don’t how this affects foreigners).

Between 40-60 km/h: €531 (and six points subtracted; your license is suspended if the infraction is committed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.).

More than 60 km/h: €828 (and ten points subtracted as well as suspension of your license for six to twelve months).

My ticket is in the 11-40 km/h range.

Until this time, I’ve never been issued any kind of traffic ticket in Italy. But I know that in the past, Americans often ignored the tickets.

Since Italy implemented its speeding camera network, the fines are unavoidable. Even in the case of a rental car, the ticket will reach you (as it did me).

The good news is that you can pay by wire transfer, which is actually really easy to do.

I’ll report more when I receive the actual ticket.

Hopefully, people who receive a similar notice from their rental car company will find this post useful (and helpful in reducing anxiety about having to pay a fine).

And for the record, I wasn’t driving that cute red 500 in the photo above. But it was the only image of an Italian car I could find in my archive to go with this post!

Pig ass king: a taste of culatello history at Antica Corte Pallavicina

corte di pallavicina do bianchiAbove: the culatello aging cellar at Antica Corte Pallavicina.

The earliest printed mention of cultatello I’ve been able to find dates back to 1931 in the Italian Touring Club’s Guide to Italian Gastronomy (the following translation is mine):

    culatello, a truly famous product from Busseto and nearby Zibello in lower Parma. It is prepared using the loins of the pig, seasoned with salt and pepper and then aged for six months indoors and outdoors.
    It is sliced raw and it is a highly refined and exceptionally delicious cured meat.
    Its fame stretches back centuries.
    In his History of the City of Parma [1591], Bonaventura Angeli recounts that at the royal wedding of Andrea of the Counts Rossi and Giovanna of the Counts Sanvitale in 1322, “excellent culatello” was sent by the Marquis Pallavicino from Busseto and Count Rossi from Zibello, both cousins of the betrothed. The culatello, adds the author, was one of the most prized entrées in the Pantagruelian banquet held to celebrate the occasion.

Thanks to Google Books, I was able to read the passage from Angeli’s 1591 chronicle of Parma and the note on the 1322 wedding of Andrea and Vannina (her name as it appears in Angeli’s book).

I’m sorry to report that there is no mention of culatello in the description of the banquet (which only occupies one line).

But this apocryphal anecdote has been reported countless times by contemporary chroniclers of Italian food who, like me, found the 1931 reference but, unlike me, did not go back to read the primary text.

The passage is significant nonetheless because it reveals how coveted culatello was in the first half of the twentieth century (at the peak of Italian fascism btw).

It’s also significant because of the mention of the Marquis Pallavicino, whose family figures prominently in Angeli’s book.

The Pallavicino family was a major power player in Parma throughout the middle ages and Renaissance.

And today, the Antica Corte Pallavicina estate (run by the Spigaroli brothers) is the spiritual home of culatello.

The estate’s two restaurants lie in the heart of lower Parma province, where the intense humidity (the Po river is literally a stone’s through away) is key to provoking the bacteria needed to produce culatello.

As the sorely missed Kyle Phillips wrote some years ago for About.com, culatello (literally, the little ass of the pig) “is made from the major muscle group one finds in a prosciutto … seasoned and lightly salted, stuffed into a pig’s bladder, tied to give it a pear-like shape, and then hung 8-12 months to cure in farm buildings in the Bassa Parmense [lower Parma], not far from the Po River, where the mist swirls through the windows, interacts with the molds on the walls, and imparts a hauntingly elusive something that makes all other cold cuts pale by comparison.”

On my recent trip to Italy, Barone Pizzini CEO Silvano Brescianini (my friend and client) generously treated me to dinner at the Antica Corte Pallavicina.

Following the opening amuse-bouche, the opening dish was the “podium” of 18-, 27-, and 37-month aged Culatello di Zibello.

Next came the tortelli d’erbette alla parmigiana al doppio burro d’affioramento delle vacche rosse (below): traditional Parmense stuffed pasta filled with finely chopped Swiss chard, ricotta, and finely grated aged Parmigiano Reggiano dressed in double-top-cream vacche rosse butter.

An incredible meal and what a sight to see those culatelli (above)!

Especially after our visit to the Corte Pallavicina, it’s not hard to understand why culatello is legendary among the world’s cured meats.

In the light of this, I hereby forgive the Italian Touring Club for their editors’ folkloristic attribution!

tortelli recipe emilia romagna

A history of Montalcino that I’m translating into English, a new and cherished project

stefano cinelli colombini barbi montalcinoAbove: I’ve always admired Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s writing and the “voice” that he has given to Montalcino and its wines.

Ever since I realized that I was never going to make a decent living by translating and writing about Italian poetry (one of the great passions of my intellectual life), I’ve tried to find ways to incorporate my academic interests into my work as a wine blogger for hire.

From Roman times to the current day, Italy’s cultural patrimony has continued to fascinate and inform the western world and its ars poetica, as it were, its aesthetic sensibilities. Nearly every art and literary movement today, from naturalism to the avant-garde, can trace its origins back to Italian intellectual life. Where would be today without Michelangelo… or Marinetti, for that matter?

Over the arc of my adult life and career, wine and food history has taken the place of prosody as a window that offers a humanist perspective into Italy and its many wonders, natural and crafted. Whether the etymology of a term like sovescio (cover crop) or my reflections on a Pasolini poem inspired by an Italian wine merchant in Mexico City, viticulture — the culture of wine and the vine – has become a pretext and conceit for writing about a cultural legacy that continues to bewilder me.

Legacy winemaker Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s writing first came to my attention via his posts for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

On more than one occasion, I found myself translating his work for posts on my blog or blogs where I have contributed as a reporter/journalist.

He is a superb writer and his posts made a deep impression on me because he is virtually the only member of the Montalcino community who speaks out regularly (and eloquently) on cultural and political issues that affect the wines, wineries, and people there.

We met and tasted at Vinitaly this year. And then we met again in May at his winery in Montalcino. When I proposed that we work together to produce a blog devoted to Montalcino, its history, its people, and its wines, he was enthusiastic. He had already launched a similar project, in Italian, years ago.

The result of our delightful conversations is MontalcinoBlog.com, a new online journal devoted to the history, life, and times of Montalcino — the appellation where I first discovered an interest and passion for viticulture as a student in Italy.

Currently, I’m translating Stefano’s excellent History of Montalcino from the Italian and I’m loving every minute of it.

Yesterday’s post — Montalcino History: Montalcino fends off the Medici’s troops and becomes Italy’s last free city — was a study of numismatics. Stefano’s notes on coins forged by Montalcino during the 1550s became a rabbit hole that had me researching Latin inscriptions during the Renaissance.

There’s an expression in Italian: pane per i miei denti, literally bread for my teeth or something I can really sink my teeth into.

Call me a kid in a candy store. It’s a dream job for me and I’ve been having a blast reading and corresponding with Stefano, whose erudition and knowledge of Italian history (not to mention his classic Tuscan wit) are as entertaining as they are thrilling.

Once I complete my translation of his history of Montalcino, we’ll move on to myriad subjects he’s covered in his writings and work. There’s much more groovy stuff to come.

Please check it out here and thanks for reading…

Maremma dispatch: the 1954 Ribolla coal mine tragedy

ribolla mine accidentA number of people commented yesterday on this photo, posted from the village of Ribolla (Roccastrada township) in the heart of Maremma (Tuscany) yesterday.

It’s a memorial to the victims of the 1954 coal mine tragedy there, which claimed the lives of 43 miners and shook Italy and its citizens just as the nation was rebuilding in the wake of the Second World War.

An explosion was caused by firedamp (a flammable gas) just as the miners had begun their morning’s work.

More than 50,000 persons attended the miners’ funerals, according to the Italian Wiki entry for Ribolla.

Here’s the only English-language account I could find.

The episode inspired the 1962 novel La vita agra by Luciano Bianciardi (published in English as It’s a Hard Life), which was adapted for the screen in 1964 by Carlo Lizzani.

The hills of the Maremma Toscana, which lie roughly 15 km from the sea, were a historical center for mineral and coal mining, with a legacy that stretches back to the iron age and the time of the Etruscans.

Viticulturally, Maremma is more widely known for its coastal vineyards. But today there is a growing presence of fine wine production in the hills that lie inland from the sea.

More on that later. Heading out now for my first appointment of the day in Montalcino…

“Pasolini’s girlfriend” and a poem in the shape of a rose

pasolini poems poetryImage via GoogleBooks.

Happily, I’m not alone in my insatiable interest in Italian essayist, poet, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

With the current financial crisis looming over Italy and the nation’s general malaise, many Italians agree with me that his writing is more relevant today than ever.

A number of Italian intellectuals have invoked his name, for example, when addressing the continuing controversy over the construction of a new high speed train in the northwest Alps.

Sadly, most Americans know Pasolini only as a cineaste. In fact, his essays and his poetry are the works that have most greatly shaped his legacy following his assassination in 1975.

Beyond my scholarly fascination with his writings, Pasolini has become a sort of code word for me. In my social interaction, the utterance of his name is a synecdoche for an overarching attitude and an ideological stand against consumerism, the reification of our bodies, and the subjugation of the disenfranchised.

And Pasolini has also been the catalyst of some of my most cherished friendships.

One of those best friends is Paolo Cantele, who is also my client.

Earlier this week, he brought a wonderful blog post to my attention: “Pasolini’s girlfriend,” by Rome-based blogger and author Carmelo Albanese.

However apocryphal the story may be, it touches the heartstrings of Italians’ self-awareness and counter-culture today. The comments to the post, alone, would merit the attention of a doctoral thesis: this is the power of Pasolini’s towering presence in the country today.

I loved the story so much that I have translated it for Paolo’s winery’s English-language blog.

Please click over to read it.

Spoiler alert: the tale’s denouement revolves around a poem by Pasolini, “A un papa” [“To a Pope’].

Unfortunately Stephen Sartarelli’s translation of the poem was not included in his landmark Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a Bi-Lingual Edition, published last year by University of Chicago Press. (Stephen is a friend and a mentor and he’s the Italian translator I admire most.)

But here’s a note on the importance of the poem by James Ivory (the celebrated director) who wrote the book’s introduction.

“Early in 1959…,” he writes, “problems” with Pasolini’s then publisher Bompiani arose “because of a polemical poem [by him]: ‘A un papa’ (‘To a Pope’), a rhetorical invective against Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, considered by many to have been compromised by his silence and inaction during the Fascist-Nazi epoch. As the publisher was close to the Vatican, the controversy created strife with the editorial board… The poem itself, part of a series of what Pasolini called ‘epigrams,’ represented a new vein for him, merging politico-moral invective with verse, which he would tap with varying degrees of frequency for the rest of his life.”

Carmelo reveals in the post that he’s not an avid reader of Pasolini’s poetry. And I wonder if he was aware of the significance of the work in the arc of Pasolini’s literary career.

Anyone intimately familiar with the Pasolini mythologies would surely agree with me when I say that Carmelo’s post is even more moving because of the very fact that he hadn’t ever read the poem.

When you read Carmelo’s post, you might wonder — as I did — why he didn’t call the post Poesia in forma di rosa (Poetry in the Shape of a Rose, Pasolini’s famous collection of poetry published in 1964).

I hope you enjoy my translation as much I did composing it. Buona lettura!

Italians say it better: publicist/journalist Annamaria Testa asks Italians to speak “a little bit more, please, in Italian.”

alice feiring wine writerAbove: last night, Alice hosted Giovanni, his crew, and me in Soho for salad and cheese after we pigged out at Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s so important for me to eat leafy greens when I’m the road. Alice always hooks me up. Photo by Ben who was also in attendance.

Last night, as the Italians and I sat around Alice’s table, tasting wines and bantering about, I couldn’t help but think of how many English words Italians use in wine trade parlance. Even the word winemaker has found its way into the language of Dante: it’s used loosely and frequently in Italian to describe someone who may or may not have a degree or experience in formal enology yet who makes wine nonetheless. In Italian, an enologist can be a winemaker but a winemaker doesn’t necessarily have to be an enologist.

Giovanni (above) is a winemaker, for example, even though his winemaking partners Andrea and Nico are the formally trained enologists who arguably do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to the technical aspects of vinification. Giovanni carries his weight when it comes to pruning, racking, tasting, blending, etc. But no one would call him an enologo.

I was thinking about the use of English words in Italian after a new petition to encourage Italian leaders and marketers to eliminate Anglicisms from Italian was brought to my attention by my ex-college roommate — an American who has lived and worked in Italy for more than twenty-five years and who is perfectly bilingual.

It’s called Dillo in italiano (say it in Italian) and according to its online petition, it calls on “the Italian government, public administrators, members of the media, and businesses to speak a little bit more, please, in Italian.”

One of its pillars is based on an old Italian saying.

“In Italglish,” writes the author of the petition, “it’s easy to use terms clumsily, incorrectly, or inappropriately. Those who speak in the same manner that they eat speak better [Italian].”

The project has been spearheaded by Italian publicist/journalist Annamaria Testa and the topic began trending in English as well as Italian in late February after Italian humorist and essayist Beppe Severgnini published a New York Times op-ed entitled “Italy’s New Lingua Franca.”

“Beautiful though our language may be,” he wrote, “it is not the medium of choice for engineers when they’re building a beltway in Norway or designing a dam in Vietnam.”

The thorny question of Italian linguistic purism dates back to the Fascist era and beyond.

In 1977, in The Italian Language Today, the great Italian linguists Anna and Giulio Lepschy wrote the following account.

“During the Fascist period there were severe puristic relapses. As early as 1923, a tax as levied on foreign words used in shop signs, and at the beginning of the second world war, a law banned such words altogether; a poster appeared with ‘Italiani, bicottate le parole straniere’ ‘boycott foreign words’ (not untypically using the verb boicottare, which etymological dictionaries trace back to circa 1880, deriving it, through French, from the English ‘to boycott,’ from the name of Captain James Boycott, first victim of this treatment in Ireland). A Fascist law which prohibited the giving of foreign Christian names [i.e., first names] to Italian children was abolished as late as 1966.”

Listening to Nico, Andrea, and Giovanni speak (as I translated for Alice and Ben), I wondered how stilted our conversation would be if they eliminated all English words from their banter.

Thankfully, the three of them are progressivists and they embrace foreignisms with gusto (hey, was that just an Italian word I used?).

I am an unabashed lover of Italian and find great joy in my knowledge of Italian language and literature. But I also believe that — historically — one of the Italian language’s greatest strengths has been its ability to absorb words from other languages.

Winemaker is such a powerful word in Italian in part because it is borrowed. It represents a new generation of people who make wine in Italy as they break away from past paradigms and forge new ground. It doesn’t threaten Italian. It enriches it with its foreignness.

But, hey, what do I know? Io sono solo un semplice blogger. I’m just a humble blogger.

Speaking of Italians who say it better, check out this post today for the Franciacorta, the Real Story blog. It features Chef Vittorio Fusari and his wonderful and wonderfully concise description of Franciacorta.

Absurdist EU wine marketing regulation & why Prosecco Col Fondo matters more than ever

giuseppe beppe citrico rinaldiAbove: Giuseppe Rinaldi at his winery in Barolo in 2010. Aggressive enforcement of EU regulations and the prospect of steep fines are forcing him to change the names of his wines.

Across the Italian wine world, producers and trade observers have been loudly protesting and denouncing new European Union regulations that restrict what wineries can and cannot say about their products on the internet and in other marketing materials.

I posted about it here a few weeks ago and leading Italian wine writer Luciano Ferraro wrote about it for the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera just last week.

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini wrote an editorial about it some weeks ago for Slow Wine. In his piece, he robustly endorses the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers’ call for civil disobedience in the face of fines by authorities.

Basically it comes down to the following.

Although regional references are allowed in labeling (as long as the text is in accordance with highly detailed specifications for what can appear on the label and its font size etc.), they are not allowed in promotional materials.

As a result, a producer of Barolo (the appellation), whose winery lies in Barolo (the township), cannot write that her/his winery “is in Barolo” in her/his marketing materials.

In his article for the Corriere, Ferraro cites another potential example of a seemingly nonsensical restriction offered by Montalcino producer Donatella Cinelli-Colombini.

If a Tuscan winery property includes a farmhouse bed-and-breakfast and/or restaurant, she notes, said winemaker cannot use the word “Tuscany” in marketing materials. The results, she noted, would be devastating for the winery, who otherwise rightfully can lay claim to Tuscany and all that it evokes in marketing her/his products and services.

The EU marketing restrictions include other counter-intuitive measures as well. In one instance, the legacy Barolo producer Giuseppe Rinaldi (above) was forced to remove the reference to two vineyards on a single label for a blended wine. Even though his family has been bottling a blend of these two crus for generations, only one vineyard name is allowed by the Italian legislation modeled after EU regulation.

There is a logic to the restrictions, however misguided (and perhaps abused).

If a winery is located in Barolo township but doesn’t produce Barolo wine, the strict regulation of marketing verbiage prevents an unscrupulous winemaker from writing Barolo in marketing materials that could potentially confuse or mislead consumers (at least this is the logic that I was able to find in my research on the subject; see this abstract of an article from Wine Economics and Policy by Florence-based wine economics researchers).

Of course, there are dishonest bottlers out there and every time I visit an American supermarket, I am reminded that end users of Pinot Grigio and Prosecco are often deceived by less-than-earnest marketing practices.

But the damage being done in Italy, in my view, greatly outweighs the harm to my 80-year-old mother when she goes wine shopping. Wine trade oversight is intended to protect the producers first and foremost. After all, without them and their well being, we wouldn’t have the honest wine in the first place.

The new regulations have actually been in place since August 2009. But authorities have only now begun to enforce them fully.

And that’s why everyone is talking about it now: because authorities have begun fining winemakers and these nonsensical applications of the law are coming to light.

Small Italian wineries like Rinaldi’s have become the Davids to the European Union’s Goliath wine marketing regulation. But there’s a lot more at play than just wine marketing.

The Great Recession and stark austerity measures have led to growing discontent and disillusionment among European Union citizens. Today, there is a widespread feeling among regular people that Brussels (the synecdoche EU capital) doesn’t hold their traditions and aspirations in high regard.

And this is why I believe that wines like Prosecco Col Fondo matter more than ever.

The Prosecco Col Fondo movement emerged right around the time that the new EU policies came into effect.

Its epicenter was a small group of likeminded and mostly youthful growers and winemakers who wanted to revive a generational tradition of winemaking that had all but disappeared: bottle-fermented, undisgorged, ancestral-method Prosecco, a style that was eclipsed by the Charmat method in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Over zealous enforcement of poorly conceived, however well intentioned, policy will stifle the spirits of young winemakers who want to preserve the legacy and continuity with the past.

Anyone who follows Italian wine — and anyone whose ever spent time in Italy, for that matter — will tell you that unique local tradition is what makes Italian wine so special.

As an expression of that youthful embrace of artisanal tradition, Prosecco Col Fondo represents a vital element in Italy’s future as a producer of wine that transcends its mere value as a luxury product.

It would be a tragedy to see such spirit disappear from the horizon of Italian wine.

If you happen to be in San Francisco this week, please come out and taste with me at Ceri Smith’s amazing shop Biondivino. I’ll be there tomorrow, pouring one of my favorite expression’s of Prosecco Col Fondo by my client Bele Casel. Please click here for details.