50 Best Italian Wines (?)

It would be pleonastic for me to address the myriad reasons why “top” lists — 10, 50, 100, the number doesn’t matter — are inherently useless in any putatively empirical assessment of wine.

Such indices, even when presented as genuine and well intentioned, serve only the purposes of marketers, advertisers, sellers of advertising space, and those whose lives are driven by a desire to maximize consumer goods.

And just like a schoolchild who aimlessly believes that highlighting a passage in Manzoni’s The Betrothed with a yellow pen will aid her/him in a mnemonic quest, authors of such lists inadvertently delete scores of wines from their ledgers the way said child quickly forgets the unhighlighted passages — not seeing the forest for the trees.

Today the world of Italian wine is reeling from the publication of an Italian-grown “Best Italian Wine Awards,” presented yesterday in Milan by the organizers (click here for a blog post depicting the scene).

The list, which can be viewed here, surprised many Italian observers of the Italian wine industry and I believe it may surprise you as well.

Among the Italian wine bloggers I follow, no one protested Valentini and G. Mascarello in pole position.

But some were puzzled by some glaring omissions, like top Italian wine blogger Franco Ziliani who noted the absence of any of Angelo Gaja’s wines. Now, if you follow Franco’s excellent blog, you know that he’s no fan of Angelo Gaja’s wines. But as he points out (rightly), this could only be considered an “eccentric” oversight.

And beyond Gaja, there are many others missing and many bizarre entries.

With academic interest and for the record, I point you to the list here.

Otherwise devoid of cultural, societal, intellectual, or epistemological value, the list does represent a cross-section of marketing forces in Italy today (as do the “prize” selections).

Sexy girls and sommeliers: an Italian recipe for controversy

Anyone who has ever been to Italy (and especially anyone who’s ever watched an Italian primetime variety show) knows that sexy girls often appear there in the strangest places.

The models are called veline (a word that doesn’t come from velo or veil but rather the French vélin, akin to vellum, i.e. fine parchment obtained from calves’s skins; it was first used in its current meaning in the late 80s on the show Striscia la notizia where, by metonym, it was used to denote the models who presented cue cards, called veline in Italian editorial parlance, to the show’s stars).

The Italian Sommelier Association’s (AIS) use of a velina (left) in one of its promotional campaigns stirred controversy late last year (December 27) when one of Italy’s top wine bloggers, Alessandro Morichetti, pointed out that the model is holding her glass incorrectly. The story was picked up on Monday of last week by Luciano Ferraro, a blogger for one of Italy’s leading newspapers, the Corriere della Sera. “The veline sommeliers have arrived,” he wrote.

Later in the day, in a post entitled “AIS, Good Taste, and Blow-Up Dolls,” Laura Rangoni, blogger for one of Italy’s leading glossy magazines, L’Espresso, wrote that she was offended by the campaign’s sexual and body-image implications, saying that she was going to cancel her membership in the body (no pun intended). The “good taste” of the association had sunk to new lows, she wrote, especially when the campaign centered around the slogan: good taste: either you have it or you don’t (playing on the assonance between the second personal singular of the verb avere, hai, and the association’s acronym AIS).

By Thursday, a spokesperson for the AIS issued a press release in which he reproached Morichetti for posting false information and Rangoni and Ferraro for alleged sloppy journalism.

It’s enough to drive you to drink!

Another AIS controversy unfolded late last year when the body ended its longstanding relationship with top Italian wine blogger Franco Ziliani, who, for more than three years, curated a recurring “WineWebNews” column for the association’s site, a monthly round up of wine blogging from Italy and around the world. It enjoyed a wide following in the Italian enoblogosphere, in part because it offered readers a view beyond Italy (Franco synopsized and translated salient quotes from English-language blogs). As southern Italian wine blogger Luciano Pignataro observed, the move came after the AIS hired ex-Gambero Rosso editor Daniele Cernilli as its head of marketing. (De gustibus non est disputandum.)

“An Aristotelian syllogism could be applicable in this case,” wrote Luciano. “Cernilli is named as director of marketing. Cernilli detests Franco Ziliani. Cernilli rubs out Franco Ziliani.”

Inspired by a tide of appeals from readers, Franco has relaunched the column on his own blog.

My goodness… It’s enough to drive you to drink… and blog…

Fat cat Cernilli leaves Gambero Rosso marking end (?) of an era

Above: Soon-to-be ex-editor of the Gambero Rosso Guide to the wines of Italy, Daniele Cernilli, as photographed by Christian Callec, who quotes Cernilli as asking “what is wrong with the use of new oak?”

Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani and I have posted the news over at VinoWire: Daniele Cernilli is stepping down as the editor-in-chief of the Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy, the most influential rubric of Italian wines today (pun intended for the Italophone among you).

Rumors of his departure have circulated wildly in the Italian enoblogsphere for more than four weeks and while no one expects the editorial direction and ethos of the Gambero Rosso Guide to change for the better (actually, it will probably only get worse), the omega of his tenure there does mark the end of an era that saw the “international style” and international grape varieties dominate the worlds of commercial and fine winemaking in Italy.

I interviewed Daniele Cernilli in San Diego in 2008 when he came there to speak at the Gambero Rosso Road Show, traveling event. The event, originally scheduled for Las Vegas, was hastily detoured to San Diego that year. An insider told me that the sudden change of venue was due to the insistence of behemoth distributor Southern Wine and Spirits that Cernilli and his wife Marina Thompson present only wines distributed by Southern. Whether or not this is true (and I believe that it is), it does give you a sense of how Cernilli, his wife and publicist Thompson, and the Gambero Rosso Guide are perceived by observers of the Italian wine industry as a purely “pay-to-play” operation.

Here’s the video, directed by my childhood friend Charlie George and with music from Nous Non Plus: