Mon 26 Mar 2007
Maybe not final final because I’m still going to be writing about many of the wines I tasted in New York on March 19, but general thoughts about the event and its implications.
First, the organizers of the event, which offered 167 wines from, I guess, every wine-making region of Italy, need to be better organized. The wines are presented in no order. From table to table, you might have a wine from Tuscany, next to a wine from Abruzzi, next to a wine from Sicily, followed by a wine from Umbria, next to a wine from Piedmont. Since that’s the case, you will find grapes of far different qualities and potential succeeding each other.
And the so-called “Tasting Notebook” doesn’t help, because it lists the wines to be tasted in order of presentation, by table number, and doesn’t mention the region. There’s no way you can scan the list and make sense of regions, grapes or types of wine. And when you have about three hours to try as many wines as possible, you need all the help you can get to be systematic. If you wanted to limit yourself, for example, to wines from Piedmont — Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Asti and d’Alba, Dolcetto and so on — there’s no way you could sample all the wines except by running back and forth from room to room and table to table like a madman.
More important, though, is what this tasting of award-winning wines says about the Italian wine industry, its history and its expectations.
For instance, I tried the Galatrona 2004, a 100 percent merlot wine from Fattoria di Petrolo in Tuscany. It was solid, a little stolid, well-made but certainly emphasizing structure, even pretty damned tannic and oak-ridden; indeed, it ages 18 months in new French oak barrels. Since merlot grapes are not indigenous or traditional to Tuscany, the wine receives a designation of Toscana I.G.T. — indicazione geografica tipica — stating exactly that fact. I asked the representative at the table what the suggested retail price of the wine was, and he blithely answered, “$85 or $90.”
I mean, really, but the principle question here is, “Why?” And then, “Who cares?” James Suckling, European correspondent for The Wine Spectator called Galatrona the “Le Pin of Tuscany,” referring to the tiny estate in Pomerol, on the Bordeaux Right Bank, that produces a highly finite amount of sumptuous and very expensive wine from merlot grapes. If some errant numbskull began producing sangiovese in Pomerol, would Suckling call it the “Il Poggione of Bordeaux”? What I mean is, great merlot (and by extension cabernet sauvignon) can be found in many of the world’s wine regions; why must Tuscan producers feel that they must compete with (especially) Bordeaux and by implication California by using Bordeaux grapes and aging techniques, that is, in small French oak barrels?
Basically, I found too much cabernet sauvignon and merlot and too much French oak at the Gambero Rosso event. Wine after wine was stiff, tannic and wooden, or velvety, voluptuous and toasty, I mean, California or the new style in Bordeaux. Read Italy’s Noble Red Wines by Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman (Macmillan, 1991, second edition) for the story about how Italian producers have gradually, since the 1970s, switched from using traditional large casks of Slavonian oak (even chestnut) to using 59-gallon French barriques. Yes, many red wines in Tuscany and Piedmont used to be aged too long, so that tannin masked the fruit in youth and wood masked the fruit in maturity, but if you think the transition to small, new French oak barrels hasn’t changed the character of many of these wines, you might believe that Anna Nicole died of whooping cough.
It’s disturbing that Slow Food, originating in Italy but now an international voice for locality, integrity and authenticity in food products and wine, is a sponsor or collaborator in Gambero Rosso’s awards and in this event. There’s not much that’s truly authentic and local about a Tuscan wine made from French grapes and aged in French oak.