The semi-sweet sparkeling jewels of Italy
July 7, 2007
As I mentioned in last week’s column, I am presently in Italy traveling the wine areas of this classic and unbelievable wine country. Being the total wine geek that I am, I can’t help but to feel like I am in the presence of a famous person when entering a new area. For example, when traveling into Parma, the home of some of the world’s finest cheese and cured pork products, I feel a little nervous, as though I am unworthy of being graced with such stature and history. The general reaction of the people to an American with awful Italian language skills, at best, is however remarkably welcoming.
My first day in Italy was spent in one of the most classic wine regions of the world. Barbaresco, known for its feminine expression of the Nebbiolo grape, is a stunning landscape. The hills are steep and the soil looks as though it is pure chalk, though it is mostly calcareous marl. We visited the house of Luigi Volghera where the wines were sublime. His winery is gorgeous. It is a mixture of a museum and a fully functioning winery and as we sat down to sample the wines. He prepared a tasting of Piedmont’s revered cheeses and meats full with salami made personally by his wife. As we sat through the tasting, we heard the thunder of a dozen Ducati Motorcycles arriving for their break where a table was laid out at the winery for an unbelievable tasting. The hospitality in this classic house was second to none.
We then traveled east and south through Emilia-Romagna and tasted the local wines in Parma. There the Lambrusco wine, a semi sweet red sparkling wine, is the jewel of the area. The proprietor was dressed in a fine Italian suit and gave us a tour through one of the most organized and detail oriented wineries that I have ever seen. Here they not only produce phenomenal Lambrusco but also some of the best Parmigiano Reggiano in the region. We of course had them together on a terrace overlooking the vineyards of Parma. While one might have expected this suave character to be uptight considering his fashionable sense of clothing, he soon became loose and excited at the presence of his American guests. It is amazing what a few glasses of vino can do to a person.
And today we came upon the most amazing experience yet. We entered a winery in the region of Abruzzi where the Montepulciano D’Abruzzo reins king and were greeted by a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 28 years old. We expected her to lead us to the proprietor — but she was it. She toured us through the vineyards in a small SUV explaining in exact detail the orientation, soil composition, and difficulty of every inch of the property, which was quite large. Her depth of knowledge and understanding of the wines was unbelievable as she is the vine grower and wine maker. A fifth generation wine grower in the area, she is bringing the Pietratonj wines to a new level and creates a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo to the likes I have never seen.
I guess what has stunned me most thus far is not the undeniable beauty of the land or the tremendous quality of the product that is born from it, but the dedication and talent of the people that produce it. Young or old, the people have an innate attachment to tradition that perpetuates a level of quality that is truly amazing. I have also had my fair share of mediocre experiences but the great ones heavily outweigh them. It is not at all what I expected; it is so much more personal.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at email@example.com