The Wine Palate
November 18, 2006
Italy is a wine-producing country of enormous size generating a quarter of the world’s wine, second only to France. From the mountains of Valle D’Aosta in the north to the very tip of Reggio di Calabria in the south, and even extending into Sicily, Italy’s wine tradition is ingrained deeply into the culture. Vines grow so easily that one might expect them to grow out of the cracks in the sidewalks. Above all, Italy shows its real uniqueness in its massive range of native grape varieties and vinicultural styles. Italy produces wine both in the most rustic of fashions and in the most modern, employing internationally-renowned winemakers and up-to-date technology. One of the great examples of this juxtaposition is expressed in the classic region of Tuscany.
On the classic end, Tuscany is most known for its production of Chianti. Unfortunately, the labeling laws have not supported quality in Tuscany and even the lowest quality and mass-produced Chianti wines have been given the prestigious label of DOCG (Denominazione di Origene Controllata e Garantita). This has not only degraded the significance of the label by making it untrustworthy, but as a result it has also lessened the value of those wines that rightfully deserve the designation. Even Italy’s first DOCG, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, has not lived up to its designation and has thus further degraded the classification system.
On the modern end, we have the famed "Super Tuscans." The story started as far back as 1948 when Sassicaia produced the first vintage of Incisa della Rochetta. This wine was made from Cabernet Sauvignon, supposedly brought from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. This thought seems a bit commonplace now that Cab is grown in every corner of the wine world, but in 1948 the use of French varietals in other countries was a relatively fresh idea. This idea was a huge success and over the years the concept became very popular. Winemakers began to blend French varieties with the Tuscan native grape Sangiovese to make wines that had great balance and finesse but still retained Tuscan character. The interesting irony is that most of the really fine wines that were being made in Tuscany did not fit the DOC laws and were thus labeled the low mark of vini da tavola because of their use of foreign grape varieties.
It is certainly not my intention to insinuate that modern is the way to go or that French varietals have more potential to make great wine than Italian. It is more my intention to point out that great wine can be produced outside what is accepted to be classic. As the wine world develops, regions like Tuscany are losing a piece of identity by modernizing, but if the wines of old would keep up with the market by using modern techniques to further express their character and the labeling laws would recognize quality when it was apparent, these regions would stand out more with distinction and tradition.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .