Scavino vs. Produttori del Barbaresco: a political allegory

One of the cool things about what I do for a living is that wine (sales) reps will often offer to “taste me on” their wines.

Last night, I was catching up with one of my clients here in Austin and a rep asked me if I’d like to taste the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by the “father” of modern Langa, Paolo Scavino.

It just so happened that I was drinking the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, one of the stalwarts and standard-bearers of traditional Nebbiolo.

Even though I can’t say I’m a fan of the Scavino style, I thought that both wines were showing great.

The Scavino had that trademark cherry cough syrup note (easy to identify even when tasting this wine blind) and I was surprised by how tannic it was (citing second-hand sources, the rep told me that Scavino is declassifying some of its best fruit, otherwise destined for its Barolo, and using it for this wine; after tasting the wine, I believed him). It was elegant and focused and it had good acidity. While I just can’t get around that cough syrup flavor, I can see why people like this wine and why it does so well in restaurants.

The Produttori del Barbaresco was all classic, all the way. Bright and light on the palate, this wine leaned more toward berry fruit with a balance of earth and the cooperative winery’s signature acidity keeping all the other elements in check. Tasting it side-by-side with the Scavino, I couldn’t help but note that the Produttori del Barbaresco has very little tannin in it. This softness, combined with the acidity and clarity of fruit, is one of the reasons why this wine does so well among restaurant-goers (not to mention the affordability).

I’m not sure how it happened but the conversation shifted to politics. The rep is a Romney supporter and a diehard republican.

As they sat there on the bar, the wines became — in my mind — an allegory of our deeply divided country.

It’s a facile analogy, I know, but it just leapt out at me: on the one side, a nineteenth-century cooperative of farmers united by a priest in a hilltop village, a bottle of earth and berry fruit, ever true to its original mission; on the other side, an old Langarola family who had led the charge of modernism in the 1990s, abandoning the traditions of a bygone era and delivering a hearty, tannic wine that tasted of cough syrup, slick, polished, and refined, well intentioned and honest no doubt, but detached from the place whence it came.

“I guess you don’t like cherries,” said the rep when he noted that I preferred the Produttori del Barbaresco with my meal.

“Cherries are fine,” I said, “but the wine’s just not my speed.”

“Fair enough,” he said.

As far as I know, he made a “placement” last night.

I guess that in Austin — the little blue town in the big red state — there’s room for both.