The story has been told many times but was first recounted famously in English by Eric: somewhere in the 1960s and 70s, the eccentric Italian noble, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, prince of Venosa, developed what are still undeciphered methods of vinification and aging that allowed him to create unique, powerful, nuanced long-lived expressions of Malvasia di Candia, Sémillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. The secret at the Fiorano estate (located in the region of Latium, just north of Rome)? Mold… mold on the covering the aging casks, mold covering the bottles aging in the cellar.
I’ve had the great fortune to taste the wines many times. The first occasion was when they arrived in the U.S. in 2005. They had been rebottled and relabeled expressly for sale in the U.S. market and they commanded and continue to command a price that reaches beyond my means. But, man, they were good and they still are.
Yesterday, my friend Susana Partida, owner of Salute Wine, who brokers the wines in Texas, generously brought a bottle of the 94 Malvasia to lunch in Dallas (she and I became friends because her sister Felice cuts my hair at the James Allan Salon in Austin!).
Above: We lunched yesterday at Adelmo’s in Dallas, the see-and-be-seen wine industry hangout, where the simpatico proprietor Adelmo allows trade to bring wine. Adelmo is originally from San Vincenzo in Maremma (along the Tuscan coast) and he grew up in Florence. It’s always great to taste with him and glean wine knowledge from his many years in the business. He sent over some pâté and crostini after he tasted the Fiorano with us — his recommended pairing.
Would the prince have called these natural wines? Probably not. But are they? I believe they most certainly are. When you drink these extraordinary (and extravagant) wine, you taste the hand of an Italian aristocrat who recognized the nobility of the grape and the place, who got out of Nature’s way and let her do her work.
This was a wine, as Tracie B put it last night over our dinner of quesadillas, that “speaks of a place, of tradition. It’s real and it’s a product of its environment and of the culture, not of technology and manipulation.”
Susana generously sent me home with a half a bottle (we each had a glass with our lunch) and Tracie B and I lingered over the wine through dinner and a movie: Il postino, also from the 1994 vintage. In my more militantly Marxist university days, I might have dismissed this poignant romance as cloyingly engagé. But now that I’m a “Brunello socialist,” I can openly say that I found the movie irresistibly charming and ingenuously touching. Maybe it was because I remembered what Brunetta said about Troisi’s performance, in his History of Italian Cinema (translated by yours truly). Troisi, he wrote, gave “the world his career’s most heartbreaking hymn to life and love.” Maybe it’s because Tracie B’s generosity of heart and her wonderful spirit are rubbing off on me… The answer probably lies somewhere between a glass of 94 Malvasia and a kiss…
In other news, more mazel…
Mazel tov, Ale! His Wine Advocate scores and reviews are in and Il Poggione’s current releases are enjoying high marks from Antonio Galloni. Any one who reads Do Bianchi knows how much I love Il Poggione’s traditional-style Brunello and it’s great to see the winery get the recognition it deserves. These reviews and notes are testament to Antonio’s love of terroir-driven Italian wine. Chapeau bas, Antonio. I’ve been a fan since the days of your Piedmont Report and I love what you’ve done with the Italian notes at WA.
Another Italian wine guy, whose palate I respect immensely, Tom Hyland, also posted recently on a vertical of Il Poggione here.