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).

Sunday poetry: a Parini among wine writers

Above: I took this photo of Franco a week ago, today, as Tracie P, he, and I sat in the Bruno Giacosa tasting room and tasted with Bruno Giacosa, on a beautiful winter morning in the hills of Langa.

Carneades! Who was he now?” famously asks Don Abbondio in the opening lines of chapter 8 of Lombard novelist, poet, and dramatist Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (The Betrothed, first published 1827).

Some of you may ask the same of poet and moralist Giuseppe Parini (1729-1799), another literary great of Lombardy, the generation before Manzoni.

I’ve been thinking of Parini on this Valentine’s Day morning: the Enlightened (with a capital E) Lombard, author of erudite (at times pungent, at times hilarious) satire and master of Italian 19th-century prosody, reminds me of another Lombard writer, Franco Ziliani, a wine writer whose blog has inspired and informed my own, whose work ethic and ethical work have served as model for my own modest scribblings, and whose fraternal (and at times avuncular) friendship and collegiality have often guided me through the selva oscura, the dark wood (pun intended) of the world of Italian wine.

Anyone who’s been following my blog knows that Franco organized an extraordinary series of tastings for Tracie P and me (the sposi, no longer betrothed but already conjugated!) last Saturday and Sunday in Langa (they will be the subject of many posts in the next few weeks).

This morning, in Franco’s honor, I have translated a vinous stanza from Parini’s ode, “La laurea” (“The Diploma”).

    Quell’ospite è gentil, che tiene ascoso
    Ai molti bevitori
    Entro ai dogli paterni il vino annoso
    Frutto de’ suoi sudori;
    E liberale allora
    Sul desco il reca di bei fiori adorno,
    Quando i Lari di lui ridenti intorno
    Degno straniere onora:
    E versata in cristalli empie la stanza
    Insolita di Bacco alma fragranza.

    Noble is the host who keeps hidden
    from the many imbibers
    the old wine in his father’s puncheons,
    the fruit of his labors.
    Then, generously, he brings it
    to the dinner table, adorned with flowers,
    and as the Lares* smile upon him
    he honors the worthy stranger.
    And poured into crystal, Bacchus’s extraordinary,
    life-giving fragrance fills the room.

* The Roman household deities, hence, the household.

Jeremy Parzen

Above: Franco took this picture of us later that afternoon, as we drove around the vineyards of Barolo.

Thank you, again, Franco, for an unforgettable visit to Langa. You are a Parini among wine writers.

Noble is the host…