Morgenthal 's Wine Tips
is transitioning from a nation known for overproduction of generic wines
to a country producing a diverse range of wines at the highest level.
These are my tips for learning more about and enjoying the true distinctiveness
and quality that the region represents.
Diversity and individuality of producers. Josko Gravner- So what
if Georgia is the only other civilized nation still burying clay amphorae
in the ground as a vessel for extended macerations for white wines on
the Slovenian border? Josko Gravner is the Italian equivalent to Chateaneuf
du Pape’s late Jacques Reynaud: highly individualistic, idiosyncratic
and both known for making wines that defied all odds because they were
made with philosophies that went against conventional wisdom. These
are unique wines that do not utilize the word ‘compromise’
as part of their philosophy. Ancient vinification methods notwithstanding,
the real question is: Does he make good wine? For me, Gravner’s
Friulian-blend Breg is probably the best white wine in Italy. His current
Collio Chardonnay Riserva is from the 1991 vintage- about ten years
later than most wines from this vintage have come to market. Other traditional
producers who march to their own drum include Bartolo Mascarello, Guiseppe
Quintarelli, Stanko Radikon and Marco DeBartoli to name a few.
new wines as well as regional foods. What constitutes something
beautiful about a particular wine? For me, it is the sense that a wine
truly reflects the place from which it came. One thing that separates
Italy from most countries is its proliferation of indigenous grapes.
Native grapes that are inherent to a particular place, be it Vespaiola
from Breganze, Galliopo in Ciró or more commonly, perhaps, Corvina
for Amarone. Wine, for me, is about diversity and like life, all things
should be experienced at least once so as to give one a rich background
or a basis for weaving a tapestry that constitutes the ‘big picture.’
Does Italy make great chardonnay and cabernet? Of course. Will Bovale,
Croatina, Uva de Troia or Chiavennasca show up labeled varietally on
most labels? Normally, no. You probably have tried wines with these
grapes blended but didn’t know it. The most appealing thing about
Italy is the intellectual challenge that comes from dividing the country
into 20 regions and looking at them as separate entities. 20 regions!
France has about 7. North America has about 5. As a sommelier, I try
to pair regional dishes with regional wines. If a dish has a Tuscan
background, then go with a Tuscan wine. After all, this is how you would
most enjoy the dish if you were in Italy.
offers more bang for the buck. To further appreciate Italian wines-
red, white, sparkling, fortified or sweet- one need to really shop only
by price. Even if you didn’t care much about the beauty of native
grapes in Puglia, you might still buy a bottle of Salice Salentino because
it costs $8. Though I am the first to concede that a bad $8 wine is
no better than a bad $20 wine from Italy or anywhere else. While there
are lesser bad wines being made with today’s technology in the
vineyard and in the winery, there is an ocean of innocuous wine
in the marketplace today from many New World countries that routinely
cost $25 and up. Italy’s $10 wines are often simple, hearty reds
or light, easy whites. These are wines to be consumed on a daily basis
with your pesce spada or bistecca alla fiorentina. A listing
of Italy’s best value wines might include a hundred wines, some
of which might include: Dolcetto, Barbera, Arneis, Valpolicella, Soave,
Terre di Franciacorta, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Rosso di Montalcino,
Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano, Fiano di Avellino, Salice Salentino,
Nero d’Avola. These are all wines that fall within by-the-glass
pricing parameters, generally speaking.
a good book on Italian wine - there aren’t many. Though I
will nod my hat to the great English writers such as Oz Clarke and Hugh
Johnson for their knowledge on the classic wine regions of the world,
their coverage on Italian wine still leaves something to be desired.
If people feel intimidated by the sheer breadth of Italian wine, they
will probably be content to stay with the familiar names from Tuscany
or Piedmont. The Italian Renaissance is in full swing now in this country
thanks to the pioneers like Felidia Bastianich and Piero Selvaggio.
Now, you can go to New York and find on the menus at Babbo, Lupa and
Esca, native Italian dishes such as Beef Cheek Ravioli, head cheese
and stinging nettles. Throughout Italy itself, winemakers are making
much better use of the country’s unparalleled natural gifts. To
better understand the current state of wine in Italy and the wines and
producers, I strongly recommend “Vino Italiano” by Joseph
Bastianich and David Lynch and anything by Burton Anderson, the
reference point for years on Italian wine being “The Italian Wine
Atlas”. Right now, there’s always something new to discover
with Italy and I think the best is yet to come.