|Possibly the best part of VinItaly was its logo|
Here’s everything I knew about Italian wine before going to VinItaly at the Italian Embassy earlier this week:
- Italian wine is considered very “food friendly”
- Hannibal Lecter enjoys a nice Chianti when feasting on fava beans and human liver
- The Italian wine classification system is so screwed up that some of the finest wines being made have to be classified as “table wine” because they don’t fall into the rigidly defined quality wine categories
- After the popes returned to Rome from Avignon, they insisted on drinking French rather than Italian wine
- There’s a lot the I don’t know about Italian wine
Having attended VinItaly, and been fully immersed into the Italian wine industry, here’s what I now know about Italian wine:
1. “Food friendly” means wines much more acidity than I am used to, which can be rather acerbic to drink on their own
2. Because Hannibal Lecter enjoys a nice Chianti when feasting on fava beans and human liver, Americans are quite familiar with Chianti, though many still associate it with the stuff that came in straw baskets in the 70’s
3. The Italian wine classification system is so screwed up that some of the finest wines being made have to be classified as “table wine” because they don’t fall into the rigidly defined quality wine categories
4. After the popes returned to Rome from Avignon, they insisted on drinking French rather than Italian wine
5. Italian wine merchants may be, as a whole, the most arrogant and snobby group of people in the wine industry. Given that this is an industry populated by so many people from France and California, this is a dubious honor to say the least
- There’s still a lot I don’t know about Italian wine
With respect to #2, the popularity of Chianti has proved to be a double-edged sword for Italian wine. On the one hand, people recognize the name Chianti, and therefore, it can be sold and people will drink it. On the other hand, many people still associate it with the swill that came in baskets that look good with a candle dripping down the side, but is actually pretty terrible wine.
|Look! A non-Chianti!|
Trying to educate American consumers about higher-quality Chianti, as well as on other wines from Italy, is a challenge that is consuming a lot of the Italian wine industry’s time. Still, they are pressing on.
Soave seems to be the new darling of the industry – and there is a big push to make this rather unremarkable white wine as commonplace in stores and restaurants as Pinot Grigio, which is another fairly unremarkable Italian white wine. In my opinion, Pinot Gris from Oregon blows their Italian counterparts away. I would love to be proven wrong, but it hasn’t happened yet.
|There is a big push to reintroduce Soave to the American market. This was the best of the bunch at VinItaly, though it was still rather unremarkable|
What I noticed at VinItaly is that the Italian wine industry as a whole would love to take more of the American market, and are unified – or as unified as so many Italians can be on a given topic. They do not, however, have a desire or feel that there is a need to educate American consumers as to why we should care about their wines or why it would be beneficial to learn about Italian wines other than Chianti and Pinot Grigio.
|People being all Italian and wine-snobby at VinItaly|
I have been to a lot of wine events, but never in my life have I attended one where there was almost a universal disdain for potential consumers, where questions were answered with scorn and the expectation was that either people would like the wines being offered or they were incapable of understanding the nuances and complexities at hand. At one point I asked one of the reps how they planned to make their wines more approachable for Americans. His response: “we don’t need to make our wines more approachable. If Americans like our wine, great. If they don’t, that’s not our problem.” At another booth, asking about their other red wines that weren’t Chianti, I got this response: “[Italy] is not a one-trick pony. [Americans] need to know what they are missing before they judge a whole country.”
Fine. Then explain it to me. Sell it to me. As someone who loves wine, writes about wine and sells wine, I wanted to be wowed. I wanted to understand the passion and justification of why Americans needed to know more about Italian wine. I walked away with my opinions more or less in tact and reinforced – that Italian wine is great with certain foods and aside from that is pretty much crap.
I am still hoping that my mind will be changed. With all the wine Italy produces, not all of it reinforces my bias, and I did taste some good ones at VinItaly.
Unfortunately, most of them do, and it’s a shame that wine reps tasked with selling their country’s wine to an American market left an even worse taste in my mouth than much of the unremarkable wine I tried.