Americanata: Mondavi in Italy

From the “no go paroe” department…

big_gulpAs much as Italians generally like Americans and the U.S. of A., they also love to make fun of us. They even have a word for it, americanata: the word (a noun) is used disparagingly to describe Americans’s tendency toward the grandiose, the overblown, exaggeration, bad taste, and kitsch. A classic if banal example of an americanata would be the Big Gulp. According to Wikipedia, the Big Gulp was introduced by 7-Eleven in 1980 and in its largest size, contains 64 fluid ounces of soda pop. Is it humanly possible to drink 64 ounces of Coke in one serving? That’s a lot of corn syrup. The Big Gulp is clearly an americanata.

tiziana nenezicThere is an entire genre of commentary on Americans and their americanate in Italian journalism. Vittorio Zucconi writes about the U.S. from an Italian perspective for the Italian national daily La Repubblica and is perhaps the most famous chronicler of americanate. There is even a blog called Americanata, authored by an Italian writer living in the U.S. Tiziana Nenezic has published two books: How to Survive New Yorkers, the Tale of a Woman Who Managed to Do So (Maybe) and Love in the Times of Globalization.

Over the weekend, Franco and I reported on a new and disturbing wine industry partnership that represents another step in globalization’s seemingly unstoppable march of progress: the behemoth Cantina di Soave has become the exclusive distributor of mammoth Constellation Brands in Italy and will begin to market and sell “new world products of excellence” like Mondavi.

Do Italians really need another barriqued and oaky, overly extracted, jammy, hyperalcoholic Merlot? From California? I fear that this merger does not bode well for those of us who love Italy for its mosaic of indigenous grapes and who crave food-friendly wines made in the traditional style (wines for which no new oak has been used, no artificial concentration has been employed, and wines that express grape and place and people). It will only foster the continued Coca-Colization of the Italian palate. I can’t think of a bigger americanata.

I’m going to get down off of my soap box now but before I do, I invite you to watch the following Coca Cola commercial that aired recently in Italy. In the spot, a girl named Giulia from Pisa says, “lately everyone’s been talking about [the economic] crisis.” But she’s an optimist because she likes “simple things.” She eats pizza instead of sushi, a sandwich with salami instead of caviar. She likes to stay home and eat with her family instead of going to “gala dinners.” The spot ends with a message from Coca Cola, la felicità a tavola non va mai in crisi: “happiness at the table is never in crisis.”

Now watch the parody. In the original version, the girl has an Italianized Tuscan accent in the voice over. In the parody, she has a strong Tuscan accent (the use of dialect and dialectal accents is important and very Pasolinian here, btw). Bear with me if you don’t speak Italian: it’s worth it for the images.

No go paroe, I am speechless, as they say in the Veneto.

(Thanks Ale for sending me the “Real Giulia Commercial”!)

Idol and Bandol

Above: On Tuesday nights, Tracie B and I watch American idol, play armchair critic, and open a good bottle of wine. Last night we splurged (in celebration of my Princeton translation) and opened the 2007 Bandol Rosé by Tempier, which I found at a surprising palatable price at a “local” market. We paired with her excellent nachos.

The counterpoint wasn’t lost on me and Tracie B last night: we watched what may be the apotheosis of the commercialized and reified American dream (where rags-to-riches hopes are dashed or indemnified by the almighty texting hand of the American consumer) and we sipped a rosé made by a small winery in Provence in the south of France, that counts a meager 8 employees and just 30 hectares (that’s about 74 acres, 6 less than 2 X 40 acres and 2 mules!).

Tracie B and I had tasted the rouge a few weeks ago and she had not-so-subtly mentioned how she wanted to taste the winery’s famous rosé. There’s not a lot of this wine in the U.S. and not a lot of it made: according to Domaine Tempier’s site, its total production is 120,000 bottles, of which 29% is the rosé. I really wanted to surprise Tracie B with a bottle and I struck out at a few of my favorite wine stores.

But when I called my colleague, wine specialist Jen Powell, at a little local grocery store called Whole Foods in Austin, she told me that she had a nice allocation — at a great price. Btw, just because I work in the wine trade doesn’t mean I don’t have to buy wine like everyone else (even though the company I work for reps this wine!).

Above: Tracie B’s nachos are awesome. You can read her recipe here. The bright acidity in the rosé was a perfect match for the spicy flavors of the salsa, the wine’s tannin a great complement to the fat of the refried beans and her sautéed ground turkey topping.

One can argue whether or not Tempier’s Bandol Rosé is the best in the world (as a few did in the comments of a recent post), but when you taste this wine, there’s no question that it is a hand-crafted, artisanal wine that truly tastes of place where it is made, Provence — a classic and superior example of a terroir-driven wine, imported by rock star terroiriste Kermit Lynch, who, btw, just launched a new blog.

I can’t help but wonder (on tax day in our great land): is our country interesting because our Coca Cola (official sponsor American Idol) culture reigns supreme or because at our “local” markets we can find the wines of a tiny little winery in Provence in southern France, where slopes are so steep that they must be tended by hand? Or is our country interesting at all? Or does the answer lie in the fact that the two phenomena live side-by-side?

Rock on Bandol, rock on idol.