. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: June 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Montalcino... Yet Again

In the film-noirish espionage that has plagued Montalcino over the past few months, the script is getting better by the minute. The latest development is that the Italian government took over the supervision the DOCG Montalcino, removing it from the Consorzio's hands. As reaction the President of the Consorzio di Montalcino, Francesco Marone Cinzano resigned from position.
He explained to Decanter Magazine that he left 2 years early because he had two goals; to keep the Montalcino producers united, and start an era of transparency, and according to his statements, those missions are now accomplished. That idea of justification doesn't really make sense to me, because if he thinks that the growers of Montalcino are united or operating under principles of transparency, he must had too much of his own Brunello. As long as we're talking about transparency, it's interesting to note that Count Cinzano is also the owner of Argiano, which is one the 100 wineries under investigation by the Italian authorities.
Some people can be so shameless!!!
I was talking with my friend Marco, who has been working with an Italian importer for many years, about the whole thing and he told me that as far as he knew, Gianfranco Soldera was the one who reported the "sophistication" of certain Brunello to the authorities, and started the investigations.
This leads me to wonder why Soldera would want to do such a thing, why he would want to destroy Montalcino's reputation, risking his own sterling reputation in the process. I guess he got tired, maybe tired of seeing celebrated critics praising Brunellos with high scores, Brunellos that by law should not be called Brunello. Or maybe, just maybe, he got tired of living in a town where 250 producers carry the DOCG band, and just few actually are worth that honor.
I don't really know what the reasoning was behind his opening that can of worms, or if it was really him who did it. But one thing I do know is that every time I go to Montalcino I'm surprised by how much the local businesses support the big wineries. I often have an argument with my friend Marina, whose family owns a great restaurant in Montalcino named Boccon Divino, about Banfi and why she has their wines on her list. The answer is always the same: "because Banfi did a lot for Montalcino." I always answer her: "yes, like trying to convince everybody to plant Moscadello instead of Sangiovese," then the argument keeps on going back and forth until somebody stops us. It seems that the Montalcino Enoteche take more pride in showing mainstream products than smaller producers that most of the time guarantee a better quality for more or less the same price. Now that most of the "well known" wineries are all but caught red-handed with tainted wines, I'll be curious to see a change in the way Brunello is praised. I remember not long ago, The Wine Spectator released an issue on Montalcino where the front page displayed a big picture of the Frescobaldi estate, and the highest scores were reserved for the very same wineries that today are under investigation. I hope all of this scandal will help the honest growers... but I have a feeling that in the end they will be the ones paying direly for somebody else's mistakes.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Travelers With Roots.

My friend Gigi says that in Italian, "Viaggiatori con radici," or "travelers with roots" is romantic yet illogical way to describe people involved in the world of wine. At his description, I had this vision of several little people going around a small globe, attached to their vineyards with a sort of elastic rope that the pulled them back to their original place after a set time.
The way I see it, the wine world is more complex than a complicated woman. It feeds on opposites; it's slow and static and yet dynamic and modern, it's based on uncontrollable variables like the weather, yet it is detailed-oriented, and requires substantial skill and knowledge. It is a world that grows and develops unbelievably slowly, yet the Vignerols never have enough time. And ultimately, it is a world with strong, solid roots, but the wine itself and the wine people have always traveled, since the time when humans started a symbiotic relation with the vines. Behind a bottle of wine, there is often a human figure that follows it; Gigi and his family are the owners of a fairly new winery called Tenuta Vitalonga, in Umbria. I've talked about him in the past, and he is a perfect example of one of these viticultural "viaggiatori;" he travels for a good part of the year, as most of the "wine people" stay home during the harvest and travel during the rest of the year to sell and promote their products. At this point, the romantic vision of the old man working from dusk to dawn in the vineyard is almost certainly long-gone, although a few wineries still exist where the owner is also everything else for the estate. Vittorio Graziano in Emilia Romagna and a few others like him around the globe are the sole proprietors of their estates, doing the harvest, vinification and bottling almost entirely alone. But for the most part, now a winery is a piece of an industry that has to be efficient, with costs that need to be covered and bottles that need to be sold. So I can imagine all these people scrambling around the globe, representing their lands and products often several thousand miles away may sometimes feel as if they never see home anymore... but they are still strongly connected to the land that shelters their lives and inevitably pulls them back to their roots.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Saturday, June 07, 2008

What's Up Clinton Street

Today was kind of a sad day; Punch and Judy's plug has been pulled, squelching the few desperate hopes to see it resuscitated after a prolonged attachment to small-business life support.
Here's a little more detail on the saga that became Punch and Judy's unfortunate legacy. Almost 2 years ago, or maybe a little less than that, Punch and Judy was closed by the police for missing documentation. The ownership changed, and when they applied to transfer the previous owners' liquor license, they were denied. Since then, the spot has been on the market to be sold, without much success I might add. The gate was almost always down, but occasionally the broker would open it up to show it to potential buyers. The inside was exactly the same as it ever was; the bar, the chairs, the kitchen, the plates, the glasses the silverware and the bottles were exactly in the same spots. Imagine my surprise when today, they emptied out the entire place! Now, you might be wondering why I care so much about a place that has been closed for a good few months now, and there are several reasons. But the most important of them is simple: I really thought that something would happen to bring it back to life! Punch and Judy was opened originally by two good friends of mine, Constantine and Giacomo, and during De Vino's early stages, I spend a lot of time in there talking with my friends and savoring some great food. Dominique Giuliano was the first chef to set up the kitchen. He used convection burners and ovens, so no gas was needed, and he set up a simple but well thought-out menu, while Giacomo and Constantine chose the wines. After Dominique Jason took the chef position (right around the time I signed the lease for De Vino), I ate there almost 3 times a week. Jason, now owner of a few restaurants in California, is a very talented chef - his sweetbread plate was to die for, not to mention several bottles of excellent wine shared with them, including old vintages of Lopez de Heredia white and red Rioja and 10-plus year old J.J. Prum Rieslings. Good times... that now, unfortunately, are permanently confined to the form of memories. This morning, I came to open the store and I saw Dominique, who is now is the head chef for the new ownership, which is a corporation that owns a number of restaurants and bars around the city. They were moving everything that wasn't nailed down out of the building. That day had finally come, and they gave up on the lease and sold everything that could have been sold, included the chairs and the bar.
So, after 71 Clinton and Lotus, yet another Clinton street icon has closed its doors. Hopefully they will be replaced by somebody that will keep the high level of quality and professionalism that this street has had for many years now, and maintain the integrity that we hold ourselves to.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti