Wine column no. 65: Don't like the truth? Then spin, baby, spin.
Feb. 1, 2015: I haven’t written about Italian wines in more than a year. I’ve kind of avoided them; I have no idea why.
So the buck stops here. Ciao discrimination. Let’s talk about vino Italiano.
Let’s first admit that, for a time, Italian wines were unreliable. If you wanted quantity, you turned to Italy. Quality? Well, you had to go somewhere else.
That’s not the case now. Italy, it could be said, has been through a revolution of sorts. This isn’t the same as the French Revolution; no one lost their head. And, it’s not like the Russian Revolution; no one obtained absolute power or imposed a cult of personality.
But there has been a viticultural evolution in Italy. Once known for watery wine, unscrupulous practices and unpredictable vintages, the country that’s best known for pasta and pizza is now undergoing a wine resurgence. Regulations now matter more than ever before. Regions do, too. What was past is now being forgotten, and what’s new is now becoming well known as always having been so — according to a USA Today story published earlier this year.
“Tuscany is known for the quality of its wine more than the quantity it produces, and the U.S. is the largest export market for Tuscan wines, according to the Ministry of Agriculture,” according to the article.
Yet that same article revealed that one winemaker planted a prohibited grape along the Tuscan coast. He was kicked out of the local Val di Cornia designation in November 2014.
The article also mentioned that one major Tuscan wine collector attempted to pass bogus wines as legitimate, high-prestige wines.
Even more substantial a contradiction were the two separate busts in September and October 2014 totaling more than a million bottles of low-quality wine.
“Most of it was destined to be sold under some of Tuscany’s best-known labels, including Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, according to Italian media,” according to the article.
So how does something bad become something good before becoming something bad all over again? I blame it on human nature. In other words, we all have a tendency to spin, manipulate and revise what we once thought or said and place it on second, third or maybe fourth thought in the context of what we currently want to believe to be true.
This begs the question: Just how long has Italian wine been free of controversy? Well, it wouldn’t be back in late May or early June 2014, when “Italian police confiscated 30,000 bottles of Brunello, Chianti Classico and Sagrantino di Montefalco from warehouses, wine merchants, grocery stores and merchants after discovering that the bottles with the more expensive labels contained common table wine that is only worth about a dollar a liter.” That’s according to an article in The Daily Beast titled “Italy’s Weird World of Wine Fraud.”
It wasn’t free of controversy back in 2008, when Linda Murphy wrote on Jancis Robinson’s website that Brunello di Montalcino producers were being investigated for adding merlot, cabernet sauvignon and other grape varieties to what are, by law, supposed to be 100 percent Sangiovese wines. “As a result, all shipments of 2003 Brunello di Montalcino have been halted while the probe continues. Among the names surfacing in print and online reports: Frescobaldi, Antinori, Argiano and Castello Banfi.”
And it wouldn’t be back in the late 1960s when “the wines of Italy were a truly homespun lot, made in massive quantity — and at low quality — for the country’s domestic market,” according to a 2012 story in The Chicago Tribune.
Yet in the name of revisionism, let’s forget all that — because it’s not just Italian wines that have a history of revising history. Forget the bad press, the poor reviews, the public tantrums and the breaking of the law. Let’s just focus on what we know now, on what’s conveniently true, on what, most importantly, we want to believe.
And, for the moment, I like the 2011 Villa Antinori from Tuscany. At 13.5 percent alcohol, this wine is light but flavorful with a blackberry nose and some bitterness. Purchased at Bonefish Grill for $44, it was a good foil to spicy blackened Baja fish tacos in crispy wonton shells with mangos and tomatoes.
The 2010 Villa Antinori, however, couldn’t compare to the 2011. It was more acidic than the 2011, though it rounded itself out when paired with salty duck meat, $23.19. Schnucks in Newburgh.
On the easy-to-drink, but more forgettable, side, consider the 2010 Monte Antico, also from Tuscany. It’s a blend of 85 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent merlot. It contains 13 percent alcohol and has a black pepper nose. Balanced with acidity and tannins, it was medium-bodied and paired well with a thin-crust mozzarella, tomato sauce, sausage and basil pizza, $9.99 at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago.
Victoria Grabner has blogged about wine for several years.
this column runs as "bottle by bottle" in the evansville courier and press twice or so a month. the focus is on wines, food and how they intersect. if i receive gifts, i'll tell you. photo credits are noted. i buy most of my wines from winetree, varsity liquors, schnucks, the fresh market, kwik liquor and winestyles (in evansville, ind.); big red liquors and sahara mart (in bloomington, ind.); vecchio's italian market (in newburgh, ind.); whole foods (in st. louis); and binny's (in chicago.) also, i do try a number of wines that i don't necessarily mention in the column, through travels to france and other markets (germany, hungary, italy, etc.) that don't sell wines i can find here. those experiences factor into my tasting descriptions, even if i don't mention them in the column, so keep all that in mind. i write the column to tell my readers in the evansville, ind., area what i consider to be flavorful, balanced and good-value wines for sale in this area.