Post-frost outlook not as bad as it may seem, says former Barolo-Barbaresco consortium president Giovanni Minetti

Last week, late spring freezing temperatures damaged vineyards across northern Italy. Piedmont was not spared, writes Tenuta Carretta CEO Giovanni Minetti, my client, friend, and former president of the Barolo and Barbaresco Consortium. But dire predictions for this year’s harvest are premature and market panic is uncalled for and is best avoided, he notes. I received and translated the following email from him this morning.

Dear Jeremy,

I wanted to share my thoughts about the spring freezes that occurred last week over the course of two nights, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 18-19.

As far as weather phenomena go, this was an extraordinary event. It affected a wide surface area and it burned a series of buds that promised to deliver excellent fruit and a crop similar in quality to last year’s harvest.

The number one thing that makes me reluctant to comment on episodes like this is the media and writers who set about casting doubt on this year’s future harvest. The truth is that hail and frost during this time of year do not compromise the quality of the end product. But just try explaining that to people who have already read the news and committed it to memory. It’s hard to believe but there were even people who asked what the vintage would be like this year while the buds were still dormant!

Secondly, we need to look at the true extent of the damage, above and beyond the emotion of the moment. The quality of the grapes that will be produced will surely be greater than forecasted. At the moment, everything has been burned. But aside from the Nebbiolo, which was only minimally affected and suffered barely even a scratch, most grape varieties have base buds that are still fertile. This means that the plants will lose about 10-15 days in their growing cycle but they will also recoup about 80 percent of their production. You could say that this will actually save us a green harvest. Obviously, it all depends on what happens down the road. But you could say the same thing about every vintage.

Then there is the effect on wine prices. The excessive coverage of the damage (however probable but far from certain) immediately impacts the market by creating higher prices for bulk wines. In turn, this raises fears of shortages. That outlook immediately causes an increase in the price of grapes. That’s good for those selling. Not so good for those buying. It would be much better to wait until the dust settles, so to speak, so that market panic can be avoided.

Lastly, calls for government aid and a tendency toward self-pity have only caused damage to our agricultural economy. Luckily, things are starting to change. But there is still a strong desire to cry out for help in the hope that government institutions (and politicians) will be moved to the point of releasing funds in the form of emergency subsidies for lost agricultural income. But no one knows yet what the final production numbers will be…

These are the main reasons why I am reluctant to take part in this sort of collective apocalyptism.

Giovanni Minetti
CEO
Tenuta Carretta

Super Barolo a precursor of Super Tuscan? A note on the origins of “Super Barolo” labels from the 1930s and 40s

Yesterday I received an email from Barolo and Barbaresco collector and chronicler extraordinaire Ken Vastola asking me about the label on a bottle of 1947 “Super Barolo” by Cappellano. That’s Augusto Cappellano in the photo above (via Ken’s excellent blog), the fifth and current generation of the Cappellano Barolo legacy.

A reader, said Ken, “wrote to me to say he thought [the bottles] must be fakes because the word super wasn’t borrowed from English until much later for supermarket or perhaps super gas. Then I found that photo of Augusto [Cappellano] holding a bottle of it, so I think it must be authentic.”

“Then today, I noticed that in a Wine Atlas of the Langhe, there is a profile of Giacomo Conterno. It says: ‘the Conterno advertising slogan for the tenth Fiera del Tartufo in 1938 was ‘Conterno Giacomo – Produttori Vini – Specalità Super – Barolo – Monfortino.’ And they translate super in Italian into super in English.”

In his post, Ken also makes a reference to a 1935 Super Barolo by Cappellano.

“So I wonder if this is an interesting topic for you: when did super make it into Italian and perhaps why? Could it have been the Superman comics which started in 1938?”

The adjective super, meaning above or excellent or superior, is a Latin word well known to Italians long before the 20th century. It comes from Latin superus, meaning above, upper, or higher.

But it’s unlikely that super Barolo was inspired by Superman. It’s true that Superman first appeared in the U.S. in 1938 and then in Italy for the first time in 1939. But the character wasn’t known as Superman in Italy until the 1970s. Although he appeared repeatedly in Italian cartoons from 1939 onward, he wasn’t associated with the name Superman until much later. While he had a number of names other than Superman, the uomo d’acciaio or man of steel seems to have been one of the character’s most frequently used nicknames.

This was probably due to the fact that Fascist-era censors (active during Mussolini’s reign, 1922-43) purposefully revised foreign media and they aggressively Italianized foreign-sounding words (so-called “linguistic purism” was a top priority for the Fascist regime).

But the adjective super was nonetheless highly popular during that period. Not thanks to Superman but rather to Nietzsche’s Übermensch (Uebermensch), the overman or super[hu]man.

I won’t go into the concept of the Nietzschean Superman here: check out the Wiki entry for background.

But Italian philologists point to a 1898 Italian-language book on Nietzsche and a 1899 translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as works that popularized the term superuomo or superman in Italy and Italian.

As early as 1905, the proto-Fascist lexicographer Alfredo Panzini noted that “this term, for however long it will endure, has swiftly achieved remarkable popularity, although in a mocking and derisive sense. It was first used to denote the followers of Nietzsche or those who boast of following his philosophy and then later it was used for persons who boast, by means of their ostentatious demeanor, words, or style of dressing, of belonging to a separate and superior humanity as opposed to common, wretched humanity.”

One of the intriguing takeaways from Ken’s post is that above and beyond (excuse the pun!) its Fascist-era origins, it may have been a precursor for the term Super Tuscan, which seems to have first appeared in wine trade marketing materials in the 1980s, although it’s still unclear who coined the designation. To my knowledge, no one has ever taken credit for it nor have I been able to identify its author.

Image above via Glamazonia.it.

Northern Italian frost update: mainstream media reports of severe damage trickle in

Above: vineyards affected by this week’s sudden frost in Franciacorta. Note the down-turned, wilted leaves (image by Dario Vezzoli).

Mainstream media reports of frost-affected vineyards across northern Italy are beginning to trickle in as grape growers assess the damage in the wake of this week’s anomalous freezing temperatures.

One Prosecco grower told me that even the “old folks” don’t remember a late spring frost like the one that occurred mid-week.

Making matters worse, the vegetative cycle had been accelerated this year by unusually warm temperatures in March and the young shoots were even more susceptible to the freezing temperatures.

In some northern Italian regions, there are calls for the government to declare a state of emergency.

According to a report published by Oggi Treviso, 30-50 percent of this year’s Prosecco harvest has been affected.

In a post by La Stampa Asti (the Asti edition of the national daily), at least one grower said that he had lost 25 percent of his crop (although anecdotal reports on social media seem to indicate that the damage may be much greater).

ANSA (Italy’s counterpart to the Associated Press) reported that in some areas in Emilia-Romagna, where temperatures reached -4° C., “60-70 percent of vineyards in an advanced phase of budding” have been impacted.

According to Il Giorno di Brescia, up to 40 percent of farmland in Franciacorta could be affected.

The editors of the Il Gazzettino Pordenone wrote that “Friulian agriculture is on its knees.”

Growers across northern Italy are bracing for more freezing temperatures expected tonight.

Breaking news: spring freeze in northern Italy could severely compromise 2017 vintage

The photo above is just one of a series posted today on Facebook by Asti grower Gianluca Morino.

“Such a widespread event has never happened,” he wrote in the post.

Freezing cold temperatures have been reported throughout Italy today and northern Italy seems to be the hardest hit by this unusual spring frost.

I’ve spoken to at least one northern Italian winemaker who told me that his harvest is going to be severely affected.

The only mainstream report I’ve been able to find so far appeared on PadovaOggi (Padua Today): “not everything is compromised but there will definitely be a drop in production,” said Federico Miotto, president of Coldiretti Padova, the Padua chapter of the Italian federation of wine and food growers.

He called the situation a “climatic anomaly,” noting that the freezing temperatures had “boiled” the shoots and leaves in vineyards in the Colli Euganei.

Spring freezes can interrupt the vines’ growing cycle when the young shoots (like the ones in the photo above) are extremely vulnerable to cold temperatures.

It’s too early to assess the extent of the damage but I will be following the story closely as it develops.

Bruno Giacosa 2000 Barbaresco Asili Riserva was stunning last night in Manhattan. Thanks again, Ken and crew…

From the department of “somehow, some way, I just keep drinkin’ funky ass wines like every single day (we gonna drink a Balthazar to this)”…

“Arriving or departing?” wrote my friend Ken Vastola, author of the excellent Fine Wine Geek, yesterday on my Facebook. He was commenting on a photo of Manhattan island that I had snapped as my plane touched down at LaGuardia.

In the PM that followed, he generously and graciously suggested that I stop by his table where he and a group of like-minded Nebbiolo collectors were opening some of their favorite bottles.

Not wanting to push my good luck, I only tasted five of the roughly 12 wines they were pouring before I headed off to dinner with an old and cherished friend. But, man o man, what wines!

Of those, the 1989 Gaja (classic) Barbaresco and the Bruno Giacosa 2000 Barbaresco Asili Riserva (above) were highlights.

The 2000 vintage is remembered for its warm summer and the ripe wines it delivered. Many Nebbiolophiles lament that it was overrated by the American wine media with inflated scores.

But this wine was a great example of how top growers and winemakers made extraordinary wines that year. I was blown away by how expressive this wine was, with rich fruit and remarkable freshness on the nose and in the mouth.

Thank you again, Ken and crew, for including me. That was such a treat!

Posting on the fly from the city this week… stay tuned. And if you happen to be in town, please come and taste my favorite Franciacorta, Arcari + Danesi, with me at Chamber Street Wines from 5-7 p.m. on Friday.

Happy birthday Cristian! Happy Easter to everyone…

My friend Cristian Specogna (below), one of the Italian winemakers I admire most, turned 30 yesterday.

To mark the occasion, his fiancée Violetta asked friends from around the world to share video wishes. And so I made him this musication, as we call it in the Parzen family (above).

Happy birthday, Cristian! Now more than ever, the world needs honest, earnest, and genuine growers like you. In your three decades on earth, you’ve accomplished so much, often in the face of adversity. I’m looking forward to the next chapters and the many delicious wines I know you will share with us.

And I wish you and Violetta a lifetime of joy and prosperity.

Happy Easter, everyone… Have a great holiday and see you next week.

My Easter brunch wine recommendations @HoustonPress

Wishing everyone a happy Easter and Passover! I’ll see you next week. Thanks for being here and have a great holiday…

G-d bless America, home of the brave, with its high-alcohol, oaky fruit-bombs bursting in air.

For more than a generation, we Americans have embraced a “big” and “bold” wine style and tasting profile that lean toward intense and concentrated fruit flavors, oakiness, high alcohol levels, and low acidity. That’s because we Americans are bigger and bolder and better than anyone else on the planet. And it only makes sense that we build our walls bigger and bolder than any other country’s and we make our wines with higher alcohol than any other country’s.

But when it comes to Easter and Easter Sunday brunch, we can make America (drink) great again by serving wines that make more sense: wines with lower alcohol, higher acidity, and more balanced fruit flavors that are calibrated by savory tones and a more judicious use of oak aging.

Click here to continue reading my Easter brunch wine recommendations for the Houston Press…

Texas Wine Freedom: how Texans and all Americans can help end anti-competitive, un-American shipping policies

Above: the statue of Stephen Austin, founder and “father” of Texas, in the Texas state capitol. Below: the cupola as seen from below. I took both photos in February when I visited the state capital to interview representative Matt Rinaldi in February.

For years, here on my blog and in the Houston Press, I have written about the Texas government’s anti-competitive and un-American retail wine shipping policies. Despite our nation’s Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, Texas still prohibits the shipment of wines to consumers from out of state.

It took a redder-than-red Texas state representative, Matt Rinaldi, Republican from the Dallas area, to have the courage to stand up to the Texas wholesalers lobby and propose a bill in the current legislative session that would right this wrong.

In an interview I did with him for the Houston Press, he called the current policies “ridiculously anti-competitive.”

“We value our freedom first and foremost,” he said. “Government shouldn’t be interfering with that. [Texans] should be given the freedom to do what makes them happy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of anyone else.”

The following message was penned by wine retailer Daniel Posner of New York and shared with me by my good friend and Manhattan wine retailer Jamie Wolff. Wine industry consultant and advocate Tom Wark is the creator of Wine Freedom, a grass-roots initiative devoted to raising awareness of anti-competitive shipping policies currently in place across the U.S.

Thanks for reading. G-d bless Texas and G-d bless America!

*****

Dear Texas Wine Lover,

We need your help to bring Wine Freedom to Texas. 

A bill, HB 2291, would formally allow Texans to receive shipments from out-of-state wine stores and Internet wine retailers.

To help this bill succeed, we MUST get a hearing on the bill scheduled. You can help by emailing or calling:

• Representative John Kuempel – Chairman of the House Licensing and
Administrative Procedures Committee

Ask him to schedule a hearing on HB 2291

The best way to do this is by visiting the TEXAS WINE FREEDOM page: https://www.winefreedom.org/wine-freedom-for-texas/

Information is on this site allowing you to easily:

• Email or call Representative Kuempel
• Sign up for Alerts and news on the bill
• Sign a petition supporting the bill.

You only need to tell Representative Kuempel the following:

“I live in (name of city) and I support HB 2291, the Wine Shipping Bill in your committee. I urge you to schedule a committee hearing on the bill.”

Taking action now is critical since the Texas legislature will not meet for another two years and this is your only chance to change the laws on wine shipping in Texas.

Passover 5th Question: why on this night do we drink Manischewitz wine coolers?

When it comes to the Passover’s “Four Questions,” I’d like to propose a new and fifth one:

On all nights we drink organically farmed, spontaneously fermented, additive- and enzyme-free wines made from grapes harvested under a full moon in a vineyard along the Slovenian-Italian border, and on this night Manischewitz?

After all, and with all due respect, Manischewitz is really a wine cooler, a wine to which sugar — a lot of sugar — has been added.

And btw, that sugar has the potential to make the wine more palatable to children. Sadly, I speak from personal experience when I write this: someone whom I know and love dearly told me that his path toward severe alcoholism started with those thimble-sized cups of wine that he used to throw back when we were kids at shul.

Click here for my post today for the Houston Press on “What Makes Wines Kosher for Passover and Where to Find Them.”

“We [Italians] need to tell the stories of our wines ourselves,” says celeb sommelier Luca Gardini

One of the highlights of the Corriere della Sera food and wine festival in Milan over the weekend was the presentation of the newly released Corriere guide to “Italy’s top 100 wines and grape growers.”

Those are the guide’s editors (above, from left), Luciano Ferraro, the paper’s managing editor and its wine columnist, and celebrity sommelier Luca Gardini.

A who’s who of the Italian wine trade was there, including Arturo Ziliani, Leonardo Raspini, Angelo Gaja, and Elda Felluga, who was named the new guide’s “woman of the year.”

Luciano spoke at length about what sets the Corriere guide apart from the other mainstream almanacs of Italian wine. The editors don’t score or review the wines, he said. Instead, they “tell the stories” of 100 wineries and winemakers whose work shapes the Italian wine world today.

Where other editors, including some of their higher profile American counterparts, inform the reader “about what’s inside the bottle,” he explained, he and Luca strive to tell you about what goes into making that bottle.

I was really impressed by Luca’s short but well-honed message.

“We can’t just let other people tell the stories of our wines,” said the popular critic and editor (who scores wines in his own books). “We [Italians] need to tell the stories of our wines ourselves.”

I couldn’t help but think to myself: our bottles, ourselves. It’s a facile analogy based more in assonance than in symmetry. But there’s a wonderful nugget of wisdom in what Luca shared yesterday at the event.

Over the years, as the Italian wine renaissance has taken off in the U.S., the voice of American critics has sometimes driven perceptions of Italian wines in unexpected — although not always unwelcome — ways. I’m with Luca in believing that we all need to listen to each other, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Writing on the fly this afternoon from a very windy, somewhat cloudy, but stunningly beautiful spring day in Montalcino. Stay tuned…