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…

Reaction to news of the new Amarone DOCG

jeremy parzen

Above: One of these things is not like the other things. One of these things just doesn’t belong here. Photo by Tracie B.

In the wake of the post by Franco and me yesterday at VinoWire reporting the Italian government’s approval of the new Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCGs, the enoblogosphere is reeling with tweets, retweets, pings, and posts.

First and foremost, Italian Wine Guy reacted quickly with an update of his Best Italian DOCG List post.

I also saw a lot of responses to a group message I did from the VinoWire Facebook group: it seems there are a lot of people out there, studying for their Master Sommelier exams, who find this info extremely useful.

There were also a number of retweets from top sommeliers like Jonathan Honefenger of Tony’s in Houston and Master Sommelier Jesse Becker of Wine to Match.

Those of you who follow the Italian enoblogosphere may have noted an absence of reaction. It’s my sense that the move to create the DOCGs for Amarone and Recioto was more a gesture of vanity by producers than a marketing coup and really just the result of political back scratching by the inimitable agriculture minister Luca Zaia.

As wine writer Tom Hyland noted in his comment to our VinoWire post: “Let’s face it, Amarone is so famous that it doesn’t even need it. But given how many wines are now DOCG, it probably would have been embarrassing if it had never received this classification.”

You would think that Zaia and those who market Italian wines in the U.S. would wake up and smell the coffee: a definitive, officially sanctioned list of Italian appellations and detailed descriptions of regulations and production standards would be a no-brainer at this point. Americans love precision and they love technical details (California producers often write exact percentages of blends on the labels of their wines, for example). As it stands, Alfonso aka Italian Wine Guy’s list is the most comprehensive if not exhaustive list.

I understand why Italians don’t really care about the DOC and DOCG classification system at this point — especially in light of the recently implemented Common Market Organisation reforms. But in terms of marketing Italian wines to consumers in the U.S., an official list of DOCs and DOCGs would be an excellent tool for wine educators and wine professionals in this country (and would certainly help sales).

Dear minister Zaia, if you’re looking for a translator, I’m your man! (I even speak Trevigiano dialect!)

In other news…

There has also been a lot of reaction to my Tignanello post on Monday. I wanted to thank everyone for the comments: in the next day or so, I’ll do a post on what I think are the most interesting wines coming out of Tuscany these days. Please send me your comments, favorite appellations, thoughts, suggestions, by emailing me here.

In the comment section to the post, Cristiano pointed out rightly that “the father of the Tignanello is Giacomo Tachis, and not Renzo Cotarella.” (Renzo has overseen winemaking at Antinori for more than a quarter of a decade and was recently called the “father of Tignanello” by L’espresso writer Laura Rangoni.)

In other other news…

The photo above? Just for fun…