So a funny thing happened on the way to an Italian wine event. I promise I wasn’t singing the old Dean Martin standard Mambo Italiano… that would have been embarrassing. Nope. Ok. That is what I was doing, while blissfully walking down the road in pouring rain, trying to keep my leather jacket dry. It was more like ‘Singing in the rain.’ Which is a different film. Clearly I was ready for the wine event to start.
And although it was called ‘Slow Wine’, there is nothing slow about facing down 100 glasses of Italian wine in 2 hours.
Wait – what’s slow wine, you ask? Well, it’s not a frazzled mother’s drinking mantra, I can tell you that! Our mantra is more like, ‘give mama more, fast’!
The quick version is that in Italy, wine is part of the culture. The wine in your glass has more of an impact from those around the winery and vines than you may realize.
In other words, people in Italy care where wine comes from.
It’s like when your kids ask 10,000,000 times, “Where did that come from”? Well this mama can answer that!
Slow Wine magazine started in 2011 and focuses on those who don’t use pesticides in their vineyard and who utilize traditional winemaking methods (aka broadly in line with today’s notion of ‘Organic’) or who farm biodynamically. Both are a BIGGER issue, which requires another blog, so I’ll just pause here for a second to geek out. Backstory: Two newish (if everything old is new again) trends in grape farming are ‘biodynamic’ and ‘organic’, and they aren’t what you might think. Stay tuned.
Back to the wine event.
The event centered on wines from Italy, and made a point to express that each winemaker is practicing winemaking with awareness, keeping in mind that everything they do affects the environment and people around them – i.e., sustainability. This made me think of the ‘traditional’ versus ‘modernist’ winemaking debate in Italy!
Perhaps you can relate this to when your mother tells you that back when she was a kid, there were no electronics, you called everyone sir and ma’am and sat down for tea with your grandparents. Yep, those were the days.
Modernist winemakers feel past practices that have led to less than stellar wines here and there need a major revamp. Traditionalists prefer to continue many of the region’s ingrained winemaking techniques, developed over the centuries.
Basically, there is room for both views and both types wines.
The Modernist movement started in Barolo in the 1960s but really took off around 1985. These hipsters introduced controlled temperature fermentations to protect wines from bacterial infections. They also (gasp) used new 225 liter French oak barrels, hoping the porous new oak would soften the harsh tannins of the Nebbiolo grape (it does!). Many long-time producers of Barolo even adopted more modernist techniques.
Traditionally, Barolo was made in large wooden casks called botti, typically chestnut or Slovenian oak. There was no temperature control, increasing the chance for bacteria to proliferate and produce off flavors, and no one used new oak. Today’s traditionalists, armed with a modern awareness of the process taking place at the molecular level, still prefer to avoid using new oak and outright temperature setting, allowing the wine to take its time and evolve – which can be risky. I met a lot of ‘traditionalists’ at this event, and many mentioned that they are now using concrete vats, which they say help control temperature without the need for cooling/heating devices. You will find wine makers in both Italy and France using concrete for fermentation and storage – these often are shaped like giant eggs. A few thoughts on this method: concrete does not bring flavors into wine (think vanilla and cedar coming from oak), ideal if you want to keep the fruit flavor pure, and some claim it can foster more minerality (although that’s up for debate). But the biggest plus seems to be temperature control. Kinda like the 3 little pigs’ brick house, the wine stays stable. I think the debate for which side of the aisle a winemaker should be on will be ongoing, but one thing I know – the wines I tasted were great!
Some of my favorites were these:
For whites, I am a big fan of Gavi and Roero Arneis, typically found in Piedmont. What’s that, you ask? Well, Arneis is well 100% Arneis, a grape dubbed ‘the little rascal’ because it is tricky to grow and can struggle to achieve good acidity. But, when it’s good, it’s good.
Roero Arneis recit 2014: this is a great, crisp, everyday wine. http://www.monchierocarbone.com
Gavi Del Comune Di Gavi yellow label, crisp, honey, great everyday wine.
Nekaj 2011, white wine, crisp, nutty and interesting. Made me smile.
Ribolla gialla 2011
Who can go wrong with red wine in Italy, whether it be Barolo, Barbara d’Alba or Asti, Dolcetto or Chianti…? It was hard to choose my favorite. I found a few special wines:
460 CASINA BRIC
Barolo Bricco Delle Viole
Barolo 2011, I wrote the word, ‘so lovely’.. so guess that says it all.
Dolcetto D’Alba Piano Delli Perdoni
Dolcetto D’Alba Sup. Gamus 2013 Dolcetto
Fruili Colli Oriental Cab sauvignon 2011 (French oak)
LE VIGNE DI ZAMO
Friuli Colli Orientalli Merlit Vigne Cinquant’ Anni 100% merlot, worth a try!
BORGOGNO & FIGLI
Barolo Cannubi & Barolo Riservia; I liked these wines because I found them approachable now; the tannins were approachable.
CASA DI E MIRAFIORE
Barolor Paigallo 2011 – had nice fruit structure
Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2011
Chianti CL Caparsino Ris 2011, 100% Sangiovese. I think this wine will develop nicely, and would wait to drink when tannins soften.
Chianti Rufina 2013, organic
Chianti Rufina Vigneto Bucerchiale
CASTELLO DI NEIVE
Barbaresco Santo Stefano Albesami 2009