Remembering Giorgio Bocca: Bartolo, pop open a bottle!

The following is my translation of Franco Ziliani’s tribute to the great Italian partisan, journalist, anti-globalizationist, lover and connoisseur of Nebbiolo, Giorgio Bocca, who died Sunday in Milan…

Photo via Il Journal.

He was allergic to any form of rhetoric and he was truly un-Italian in his respect: Italian journalist, partisan, and essayist Giorgio Bocca, 91 years old, died in Milan on Sunday. He deserves to be remembered with a dry eye and not without a touch of irony.

For this reason, I’ve decided to remember this surly, free-thinking, independent man from Piedmont not as a maestro of Italian journalism (which he was, indisputably, regardless of your political leanings) but rather as the great (and demanding) connoisseur of wine whom I had the pleasure to interview twice in his home on Via Bagutta in Milan.

One wine, above all others, was often cited in his books: Barolo, a wine for which he reserved great passion, a wine he drank only when produced by a few carefully selected and trusted producers.

And so, as I think of how Bocca has left us, it’s only natural to evoke the name of another great man from Langa, whose dry, ironic personality was intimately familiar to Bocca. When ever the writer was in the area, he’d go visit this man and they had much more in common than their love of wine: they shared a keen interest in culture, politics, and, of course, in Barolo.

I’m thinking of Bartolo Mascarello, an indisputable leftist like Giorgio Bocca, leftist but not sectarian, enlightened and enlightening, rigorous in his being in favor or against something or someone but not intolerant, perhaps not open to dialog with those whose ideas he opposed but always willing to listen.

And so as I reflect on this goodbye to the great journalist from Cuneo, Giorgio Bocca, I’d like to think that somewhere — in some corner of the imagination, I don’t know where — Bartolo Mascarello is waiting for Giorgio. He’s sporting one of his ironic, amused smiles and of course, he’s speaking in the noble dialect of Langa. He’s opening a buta — a bottle — of a special wine intended to welcome Giorgio to this truly special parlor…

Bartolo, pop open a buta! Giorgio is here!

—Franco Ziliani

The following profile appeared yesterday on the English-language version of the ANSA website.

(AGI) Milan – Giorgio Bocca died on Christmas day in Milan at 91 years of age. He had been a wartime partisan, journalist, founder of the newspaper ‘La Repubblica’ and a long-time collaborator of the Fininvest TV networks. News of his death was released by Feltrinelli, a publishing company who published several of his books and that recalled him as “a great journalist, a great combatant and a great friend”. “Since the partisan war of resistance up to these last few days of the Italian and global crisis – the publishing company continues in a note – he witnessed, observed and told the history of our Country through seven decades. Giorgio Bocca’s enquiries, short polemic articles and books have accompanied and nourished the building of civil society through many generations of Italians”. In January, Feltrinelli will pubish his latest book: ‘Grazie no, 7 idee che non dobbiamo piu’ accettare’ (‘No, thanks: 7 ideas we can no longer accept’). In the past, in addition to his journalistic activities, Bocca – who was born in Cuneo on the 28th of August 1920 – wrote several essays and his having fought with the “Giustizia e Liberta'” Partisan division often led him to tackle the issue of fascism and resistance although he also wrote books on terrorism during the ’70s, on journalism and on the problems of the South of Italy.

During the last few months, some of his comments on the ‘Meridione’ had placed him at the center of controversy after he defined Naples as ‘flea-bag’ with ‘unhealable areas’ or Palermo as a city “stinking rotten, with monstruous people gushing out of slums”. A skilled polemicist, during the last few years, he had often delved into the condition of journalism in Italy: in 2008, in an interview on the ‘Le invasioni barbariche’ TV show, he said that while the journalists of his generation “were driven by ethics” today “truth is no longer of interest” and “publishers are always on the payroll of advertisers”. Among the last recognitions awarded to him was the 2008 Ilaria Alpi Prize for his Life-Long Achievements: “All those that go into journalism do so because they hope they might reveal the truth: even if it’s difficult, I call on them and encourage them to continue along this road”.

Italy’s greatest rosé? Biondi Santi’s Rosato di Toscana

I couldn’t resist translating this post by Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani for VinoWire today. And the mimetic desire was so overwhelming that I was compelled to post my translation here as well. I haven’t yet tasted the 2008 Rosato by Biondi Santi but the 2006 was fantastic. Until I get back to Italy, I’ll just to live vicariously through Franco’s post… Buona lettura!

When my fifty-fifth birthday arrived this year, I didn’t reach for a powerful red, nor an elegant Champagne, nor a juicy Franciacorta. No, I drank a stunning rosé on my birthday, perhaps the most important and most celebrated of all the Italian rosés (and probably the most expensive, since more than one online wine store offer it at Euro 33). I’m talking about the Rosato di Toscano, 100% Sangiovese, created by the Gentleman of Brunello, Franco Biondi Santi on his Tenuta del Greppo estate in Montalcino.

On another occasion, I wrote the following about this wine: It is the youngest child of the Greppo estate, a wine obtain by vinifying estate-grown Sangiovese at 16-18° C. without skin contact, aged for 18 months in stainless steel. We could call it a youthful Sangiovese, a quasi Brunello… in pink, obtained from young vines roughly 5 to 10 years in age. The vineyards are located in zones rich with stony subsoil and galestro [schist], with exposition to the North-East, South, and North, and elevation ranging from 250-500 meters.

I drank the 2008 Rosato di Toscana by the great Franco Biondi Santi with a simple however delicious, everyday dish: exquisite beef meatballs braised in tomato sauce and paired with green beans that had been sautéed with bread crumbs. We’re talking about enthusiasm cubed here: a truly extraordinary rosé in every sense.

Light cherry in color, jus of squab with an orange hue. Dry and direct on the nose, very salty and focusedd, dominated by red cherry followed by a gradual evolution of citrus ranging from pink grapefruit to mandarin oranges and citron. Then came notes of multi-colored Mediterranean maquis, tomato leaf, flint, and hints of rose. Together, they created a weave of color and mosaic of aroma.

Ample in the mouth, juicy, overflowing with personality and refined, ample layers of texture. Well structured on the palate, with vertical depth, endowed with focus, an absolute release of magnificent vitality and complexity.

A stony, salty wine, with perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin (the magnificent tannin of Sangiovese from Montalcino). Great harmony, extreme polish, aristocratic elegance, and absolute drinkability despite the 13.5% alcohol and richness of this highly enjoyable Rosato di Toscana.

It would be suited to a wide variety of dishes, from Caciucco alla Livornese to fish soup, to baby octopus cooked in red wine to braised calamari with peas. But it also could be paired with a roast beef, braised beef, or even veal… and even a well-stocked pizza. Why not?

The greatest of Italian rosés and one of the greatest rosés in the world, including France. Chapeau bas!

Franco Ziliani

Carema: violent beauty and stunning wines (best Thanksgiving wine for 2011)

Tracie P and I won’t be heading to Orange, Texas for Thanksgiving this year because we’re about 5 weeks away from our due date! We’ll miss Thanksgiving with Mrs. and Rev. B but I made sure that they have some good wines for their holiday meal. Back here in Austin, this is what we’ll be drinking…

Earlier this year, when my friend, publisher, and wine industry insider Maurizio Gily suggested that we visit the village of Carema before heading to the European Wine Bloggers Conference, it was hard to contain my excitement. As a devout lover of Nebbiolo, I have sought out and drunk Carema whenever and wherever I could: known for its intensely tannic nature, the bottlings of 100% Nebbiolo grown in the hillsides of this pre-alpine village, with its morainic mountains that pop up in the landscape with a beautiful violence as you drive north from the freeway (moraine: “A mound, ridge, or other feature consisting of debris that has been carried and deposited by a glacier or ice sheet, usually at its sides or extremity; the till or similar material forming such a deposit.”—Oxford English Dictionary)

Before we headed to the Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema vinification facility and tasting room in the middle of the village, Maurizio, his colleague Monica, and Italian wine marketer Wineup and I hiked the trail that leads from the town up through the pergola-trained vineyards — yes, pergola-trained! (Check out Wineup’s excellent photos here.)

Pergola training has thrived here for a number of reasons, explained Maurizio. Because of the appellation’s unique geographic and topographic elements (i.e., elevation combined with violently steep slopes, extreme temperature variation, and healthy ventilation thanks to the morainic valley), the pergolas help to keep the fruit cool (thanks to shading) under the warm sun of summer and to keep the grapes warm in the case of early frost.

You really have to see the village and its vineyards to understand how it works…

You can click on the image above for a larger version: as you can see, the terraced, pergola-trained vineyards (planted exclusively to Nebbiolo) are situated on the eastern side of the valley, where the sun beats down in the late afternoon. This combination of the nutrient poor morainic soil, excellent exposure, good ventilation, and the local grape growing tradition is what delivers these incredible, age-worthy wines. (That’s the village of Donnas, Val d’Aosta, in the distance, btw.)

The other reason that pergola training has endured here is the fact that the terrain itself restricts the use of machinery: the vineyards are literally sculpted into the side of the mountains and the only way to work them is by hand. The pergola also allows the growers to employ integrated farming and it wasn’t uncommon to see other crops planted beneath the canopy. Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani calls the viticulture of Carema “heroic.” This is land where, until the advent of modernity (in the 1960s), life survival was extremely difficult and the terrain challenging. Every grower needs to exploit his vineyards, explained Maurizio, to the greatest extent possible.

Once we made it back to the village and the winery, I wasn’t surprised to find large-format, Slavonian oak casks (like this 1,550 liter beauty). Although the winery does age some wine in barriques (say it ain’t so!), the greater part of ever vintage is destined for large-cask and stainless steel aging.

Growers association president Viviano Gassino had double-decanted an amazing flight of wines for us to taste: 87, 90, 95, 99, 00, 03, 06, and 07.

The 1987 was beautiful: A bit of disassociation, slightly browning (I wrote in my notes), but very alive and tannic; rich fruit but still very tight.

The 1999 stunning: Gorgeous acidity, really bright, with an amazing balance of body and tannin united around rich berry fruit. Maurizio and I both noted more focus in the winemaking style from 1999 onward.

The 2006 was another highlight for me and reminded me of the 1999 in a younger expression. This is what we’ll drink for Thanksgiving this year, at Aunt Holly and Uncle Terry’s house here in Austin.

Simply put, Carema is one of the most amazing appellations I’ve ever visited: for its violent beauty, for its unique confluence of geographic and topographic elements, for its perfectly viable anachronism, and for the outstanding wines it produces.

But the most incredible thing is that you can find the 2006 Carema by Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema in the U.S. for under $30 (2007 is the current release but there is still some 2006 in the market).

I love love LOVE these wines and they are my Thanksgiving pick for 2011 (even though they’re not available in Texas, I’ve managed to evade the authorities and sneak a few bottles in).

Thanks for reading! To get a better sense of the topography of Carema, here’s the slide show that I hurriedly created the week of my visit just over a month ago…

Can wine be evil? Stories that haven’t been told #ewbc

In the first panel/round table where I spoke at the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia a few weeks ago, I was asked “to defend the written” word as a medium for wine blogging (here’s my post on my “defense”).

In the second panel, organizer and curator Ryan Opaz asked me and the other participants to talk about “stories that haven’t been told” in wine blogging.

The different panelists had widely divergent approaches to the subject but wine writer and blogger Elisabetta Tosi made a point that resonated with me.

In Italy, she said, wine marketers continue to tell wine stories in terms of family and tradition, focusing on the generational continuity and historical significance of the wines and the wineries. Most, she observed, neglect to talk about the quality of the wine itself, concentrating solely on the cultural value of the wine.

Her point aligned with mine: I believe that, although there are some notable exceptions, English-language wine writers favor technical descriptions of the wines they cover, from how they are produced to how they taste; in Europe, where wine writing is not as rigidly codified as it is on this side of the pond, I find that wine (and culture desk) writers tend to discuss wines in terms of their cultural value and context.

To her point, I added that while English-language writers tend to limit their descriptions and assessments to the technical merits and flaws of the wines, European writers view wines as ideological and even ethical expressions of their respective nations. In other words, where Antonio Galloni — a writer and Italian wine expert whom I admire greatly — will provide tasting and vintage notes for a wine by Bartolo Mascarello, an Italian writer will attempt to delineate the epistemological implications of the winery, the winemaker, and his wines (as in this post, where a blogger lists the authors he finds on Bartolo’s shelves: “Togliatti, Longo, Marx, Liberovici, Marcuse”; can you imagine James Suckling even contemplating such authors?).

A great illustration of this divide came up in the feed today, when leading Italian wine writer and top Italian wine blogger Franco Ziliani published a post entitled “Americans are the only ones capable of believing in the fairytale of a ‘Chiantified’ Merlot.”

In the post, Franco examines a review of a Ricasoli Merlot by W. Blake Gray in which the American writer praises the winery for a “Chiantified Merlot,” his “favorite wine in the portfolio.”

Nonplussed, Franco decries Gray’s claim that the wine is “a positive example of internationalization.”

“How the devil can you take people like this seriously?” asks Franco. The lunacy of Gray’s assessment and Ricasoli’s approach to internationalized wines for the American market is self-evident in Franco’s view and that of his readers.

In America, wine writers and wine shoppers and winemakers think of wine solely as a luxury product. In Europe, they think of wine as an indispensable nutrient, even when proposed in its most elitist expressions. In America we describe how it was made and how it tastes. In Europe, wine writers address a given wine’s technical achievement and its inherent quality but they do not shy from its ideological and ethical implications.

There’s nothing wrong in asking whether a wine is good or bad, in my view. In fact, I believe that mundane assessment of wine is a wonderfully rich pretext for a deeper understanding of humanity and our humanness. But I also believe that we must approach wines metaphysically, in other words, beyond their physical limitations. Beyond asking whether a wine is good or bad, I told the audience who attended the panel, we should be asking whether or not a wine is good or evil.

Although it’s not the only story that has yet to be told, I believe it is the most urgent one that awaits our attention, our utterance, and our articulation.

Thanks for reading…

(In the photos above: St. Francis of Assisi, Mussolini, Palmiro Togliatti, and a group of old men playing cards in Borgonato in Franciacorta, province of Brescia.)

DOCG RIP: Death by Bureaucracy

And so it would seem that the Italian government has finally stopped handing out DOCGs to any and all who wish to participate in the age-old game of political spoils. But the news that Italian National Wine Committee has ended its despicable practice comes after scores and scores of wines have received the accolade while legions of other more deserving wines have been ignored and omitted.

Over the weekend, my writing partner in VinoWire, top Italian wine writer and blogger Franco Ziliani, and I posted an English translation of his editorial on the final nail in the coffin of the Italian DOC/G system.

And not only did Alfonso post an updated list of current DOCGs but he also wrote a stirring, lyrical, and unforgettable post about the five Italian regions that will never attain a DOCG, despite the nobility of their wines (this is a must-read post, truly brilliant).

The rush to create a tide of new DOCGs stemmed from the final phase (and year) of the EU’s Common Market Organisation reform. (See also this post on “riforma 164.”)

The power to create new denominations has now passed from Rome to Brussels but the reform allowed a “grandfathering” of previously decreed DOCGs. The crush of new DOCGs was the result of hundreds of wineries lobbying to attain the classification before the application deadline passed in 2009.

The Italian agricultural minister essentially rubber stamped every application.

To commemorate this momentous legislative landmark, Fedagri-Confcooperative (the Italian confederation of farmers and farming cooperatives) issued the following statement: “with these deliberations, the National Wine Committee has fulfilled its two-year task of reviewing and approving nearly 300 applications to change existing DOs [Protected Designations of Origin] and the accreditation of new IGTs, DOCs, and DOCGs.”

Never mind the fact that the Italian agriculture minister, Saverio Romano, (who oversees the committee and signs their recommendations into law) was appointed to his seat in the cabinet by Berlusconi so that he could avoid prosecution for organized crime association and corruption. (Over the course of his tenure, Berlusconi has shrewdly authored a series of laws that grant immunity to Italian politicians.)

And so with the baby and the bathwater: bureaucracy has skillfully annihilated any significance or impact that the DOCG system could have retained in a post-CMO-reform world.

As I prepare to head back to Italy for the European Wine Bloggers Conference (where Franco and I will both be speaking), it strikes me as one of the saddest forms of wine writing that I can imagine.

“If it’s a blend, I will not attend!” (And the Texas fires)

Cousin Marty had a hunch about what wine I’d be bringing to our BYOB dinner last night in Houston with friends. And when I arrived and revealed my bottle of 2006 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione, he opened the evening with the line of the night: “If it’s a blend, I will not attend!”

Of course, he was referring to yesterday’s news that Montalcino producers voted NOT to allow international grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino, a step that many of us feared would irrevocably reshape the appellation.

According to results posted by the Brunello producers association, roughly 2/3 of voting members voted not to adopt either of the two options proposed by oligarchy that controls the body’s technical council. One option would have created two categories of Rosso; the other would have created three; in either case, international grape varieties would have been allowed in wines labeled Rosso di Montalcino.

But that figure is misleading because consortium president Ezio Rivella had called for an “ordinary” assembly whereby the number of votes is allocated according to the size of the winery. In other words, larger wineries had more voting power than smaller wineries. If the voting had been based on a one-vote-per-winery basis, the results would have been a landslide against the proposal to change the appellation.

I am fully convinced that efforts by my colleague and partner in VinoWire, Franco Ziliani, played a fundamental role in shaping public awareness of the issues in question.

Chapeau bas, Franco! IF IT’S A BLEND, I WILL NOT ATTEND!

The 2006 Brunello by Il Poggione was gorgeous last night, rich in body, bright in acidity, with ripe red fruit and that wonderful horse sweat note that often distinguishes great Brunello. The wine was muscular and still very, very tight, young in its evolution. But the green notes that emerged the last time I tasted the wine about 6 months ago have disappeared. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a great vintage for Il Poggione.

In other and sadder news…

I wanted to share these photos that I took on Hwy. 290 from Austin to Houston of the Texas fires.

In the first photo, above, taken about 20 minutes west of Giddings, the fire had just started and the firefighters had just arrived. Man, it was scary and you could see the fear and the stress in the faces of the firefighters. G-d bless them.

In this second photo, you can see a plume northwest of Houston. Pretty spooky and so sad.

In this last photo, you can see the smoky haze over Houston this morning. That’s not morning mist. It’s ugly, brown smoke. My eyes are burning and my throat is itchy. It reminds me of LA during the riots when I was a grad student at U.C.L.A.

Tracie P and Baby P are fine and even though there are uncontained fires burning not far from our house in Austin, the smoke is not affecting us there.

Please say a prayer for all the folks who are suffering here… It’s so sad…

BREAKING NEWS: Franco Biondi Santi speaks out against proposed Montalcino changes

It would seem that the editors at Decanter and Gambero Rosso spoke too soon when they reported that Brunello di Montalcino great Franco Biondi Santi (left, photo via Weintipps) supported proposed changes to the Rosso di Montalcino appellation that would allow for blending of international grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino (current legislation requires that Rosso di Montalcino be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes).

Last week, both publications cited him as a supporter of Brunello producers association president Ezio Rivella’s campaign to modernize the appellation. But evidently, neither contacted Biondi Santi — the grandson of the creator of Brunello di Montalcino and a towering figure in the history of the appellation — for comment.

“Three years ago I was in favor of the addition of softening wines or grapes to Sangiovese for Rosso di Montalcino,” said Biondi Santi in a phone interview today with one of Italy’s leading wine writers and top wine blogger Franco Ziliani, who quotes the signore del Brunello on his blog Vino al Vino. “Today, things have changed and my position is no to any change to the appellation.”

The proposed changes, he noted, would allow producers to transform 500 hectares of unsellable Sant’Antimo and IGT Toscana into Rosso di Montalcino.

“We would enter into the same thicket as 1966,” said Biondi Santi, “when the appellation ‘Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello’ was created.” [editor’s note: this appellation was changed to Rosso di Montalcino fifteen years later] “In the fall of 1966, Montalcino was obligated to found the Brunello Consortium, which became operative on January 1, 1967, with my father. After three months of negotiations with other producers, we decided not to enter the consortium because we strongly disapproved of how it was taking advantage of an equivocation at the time: the grape variety was also called Brunello and it was considered a subvariety of Sangiovese! Therefore, a no is indispensable in order to clarify.”

Breaking news: Rosso di Montalcino proposed changes (documentation)

It is with a heavy heart that I share today’s news from Montalcino.

Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani (my partner in and co-editor and founder of VinoWire) has obtained a document that specifies proposed changes for the Rosso di Montalcino appellation. I haven’t had time to review them carefully but I am very alarmed by the “hypothesis for three typologies [categories] of Rosso di Montalcino”:

1) Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore: 100% Sangiovese (with a 1% “tolerance” of other grape varieties).

2) Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese: 100% Sangiovese (1% tolerance).

3) Rosso di Montalcino: minimum 85% and up to 100% Sangiovese, “authorized” red grape varieties up to 15% (1% tolerance).

Click here to view a full-sized version of the document.

Although it doesn’t appear that the Brunello oligarchy plans to call a vote on the proposal anytime soon, it has called for “ordinary assembly” of producers to put the modifications to the floor (September 7).

Rosso di Montalcino with up to 15% Merlot (see the third category)? Please say it ain’t so…

Anecdotally, Franco reports today on his blog that producers are “optimistic” that only 10% of them would vote to adopt the changes.

At least one producer wondered rhetorically and philosophically, “why isn’t there a proposal to not change the appellation?” It seems that the powers-that-be are hell bent on opening the floodgates of Merlot in Montalcino.

Last week, Montalcino experienced some heat spikes, as warm weather arrived from Africa. I regret that this doesn’t bode well for the 2011 vintage (although at least one producer is reporting cool evening and morning temperatures).

I’m with Franco when he says he hopes that the heatwave will pass quickly and stop “cooking the brains,” as they say in Italian, of the Montalcino establishment.

A voice of reason in Montalcino? A top producer addresses the absurdity…

Above: A monument rests atop Montaperti, not far from Montalcino. It commemorates the 1260 battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, when the temporal and spiritual [im]balance of power in the Western World lay in precarious uncertainty. In the wake of the battle, a cloud of darkness fell over Italy for centuries to follow.

Italy’s top wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani, has obtained and yesterday posted (with the author’s permission) a letter addressed to members of the Brunello Producers Association by the scion of a storied Montalcino family, Stefano Cinelli Colombini, owner of the Fattoria dei Barbi. Even in the wake of an aborted call for a vote early this year to allow international grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino (which, by law, must be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes), certain members of the body are asking its technical advisory council to consider calling again for a vote on the matter.

I have translated the letter in its entirety and believe that its truths are self-evident.


Dear friends and producer colleagues, I have just attended a meeting organized by the Consortium [Brunello Producers Association] where we discussed the inclusion of other grapes [besides Sangiovese] in the Rosso di Montalcino [appellation]. And I am writing to share my deep-seated reservations. We are faced with a serious problem because an overwhelming majority voted against the inclusion of other grapes in the Rosso di Montalcino [appellation] in a recent assembly.

An assembly vote should not be put up for discussion just a few months later. With all due respect, I would like to remind you that we have just put a tremendous rift behind us. It happened because the [fifteen-member technical advisory] Council was too stubborn to call for votes on votes [sic] on an argument (the blending of Brunello [with grapes other than Sangiovese]) for which the assembly had already expressed its clear dissent.

The message conveyed by the members is more than evident: appellation regulations are to be changed only if there is clear and broad consensus beforehand. All it takes is to ask for signatures from the members who wish to modify the appellations. We were just a handful of members but it took us just a week to gather the signatures of more than two thirds of the members against the blending of Brunello. I am certain that the Consortium has the means and the personnel to do a better job than we did. If as many producers were to sign [a call for a new vote], it would only be right and correct to call an assembly vote on whether or not blending should be rejected. Otherwise, you should stop.

Anyone who lives in this community knows that [a proposal for] blending will be voted down by the assembly, that such a vote will once again create a rift among members, and that a media storm will inevitably follow.

We must avoid such a useless confrontation. A new conflict between the assembly and the Council will lead only to paralysis and paralysis helps no one.

I’m not interested in who’s right and who’s wrong. Now, more than ever before, we need a Council that knows how to win the trust of its members. We don’t need a Council that opposes them.

The only plausible reason to allow blending has fallen by the wayside: the sale of Rosso di Montalcino is no longer falling. [Consortium] director [Stefano] Campatelli says that during the first six months of 2011, 500,000 more bottles have been shipped than in the first six months of the previous year. This represents phenomenal growth.

Previously, there could have been some doubt but now the numbers show that the sales of Rosso di Montalcino depend on the price of Brunello and not on the Sangiovese. When Brunello was sold in bulk at Euro 300 per hectoliter, no one wanted to buy the Rosso anymore. With Brunello at Euro 800, the Rosso is soaring with a 40% increase in sales.

If you think about it, it’s only logical that if a bottle of Brunello only costs a few Euro more than the Rosso, everyone will buy the Brunello. The cure for the Rosso di Montalcino malaise is higher prices for Brunello and not blending, which would not make the Rosso technically better. Blending would only make it the same as many other excellent wines that cost much less. It takes a lot more than slapping a Ferrari label on a [Fiat] Panda to sell it for Euro 100,000. And it takes more than the Montalcino name to set a high price for a wine that may be technically perfect but otherwise indistinguishable from many others that cost three or four Euros.

Your colleague, Stefano Cinelli Colombini, Fattoria dei Barbi


In unrelated news, have you noticed that Franco has announced the winner of his recent “make me a new blog banner” competition? His new banner was created by Ms. Stefania Poletti, a native of Bergamo who now resides and works in Boston. Congratulations, Stefania! Nice work!

Recioto, Maffei, and Cassiodorus: the Italian text

Above: Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei, 18th-century archeologist, historian, art historian, and philologist (image via Michael Finney Antique Books and Prints).

Over the last few days, a number of people have retweeted my translation of Cassiodorus on Recioto della Valpolicella (Acinaticum) via Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei (thank you Melissa, Raelinn, Randall, Meg, Lizzy, and Juel).

And yesterday, Italy’s A-number-1 wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani, graciously and generously included it in his weekly wine blogging roundup for the Italian Sommelier Association.

In my initial post, I included my translation of the Cassiodorus text into English along with the original Latin.

Today, for Italian readers, I’m posting the Italian text, transcribed from Maffei’s Verona Illustrata (Verona Illustrated, originally published in 1731-32 in Verona).

If only I had time (and the financial resources) to devote myself full-time to my philological pursuits! Magari! For the time being, my enophilological research has to take a backseat to earthly necessities. It means SO MUCH to me when people enjoy these posts. THANK YOU one and all!

Here’s the text. Buona lettura! (Click here for my English translation.)


“Non è da tralasciare la distinta memoria di due vini veronesi che ci ha conservata Cassiodoro, scrivendo a colui, che avea cura in queste parti delle contribuzioni fiscali a tempo di Teodorico. Dopo aver premesso, doversi per la Regia mensa far venire d’ogni parte le più rare cose, così proseguisce: ‘e perciò son da procurare i vini, che la feconda Italia singolarmente produce, accioché non paia aver noi trascurate le cose proprie, quando cercar dobbiamo anche le straniere… Spezie di vino veramente degna che se ne vanti l’Italia: imperciocché se bene l’ingegnosa Grecia, di varie e fine diligenze lodata, e condisce i vini suoi con gli odori, o con marine mischianze dà lor sapore, niente ha però di così squisito… il vino Acinatico, che da gli acini ha il nome… Questo è puro, per sapor singolare, Regio per colore; talché o ne’ suoi fonti possa tu creder tinta la porpora, o dalla porpora espresso il liquor suo. La dolcezza in esso si sente con soavità incredibile, si corrobora la densità per non so qual fermezza, e s’ingrossa al tatto in modo, che diresti esser un liquido carnoso, o una bevanda da mangiare… Vogliam riferire quanto particular sia il modo di farlo. Scelta nell’Autunno l’uva dalle viti delle domestiche pergole, sospendesi rivoltata, conservasi ne’ vasi suoi, e negli ordinari repositori si custodisce. S’indura dal tempo, non si liquida: trasudando allora gl’insulsi umori, soavemente addolciscesi. Tirasi fino al mese di Decembre [sic], finché l’inverno la faccia scorrere, e con maraviglia cominci il vino a esser nuovo, avendo in tutte le cantine si trova già vecchio. Mosto invernale, freddo sangue dell’uve, liquor sanguigno, porpora bevibile, violato nettare. Cessa di bollire nella sua prima origine, e quando può farsi adulto, comincia a parere per sempre nuovo. Non si percuote inguirosamente con calci l’uva, né con mischiarvi sordidezza alcuna s’infosca; ma vien’eccitata come alla nobiltà si conviene. Scorre, quando l’acqua indurisce, è feconda, quando ogni frutto de’ campi è svanito, stilla dagli occhi suoi liquor corrispondente, lagrima non so che di giocondo ed oltre al piacer del dolce, singolare è nella vista la sua bellezza'”.