The Three Sisters of Veneto

ItalyCorvina laughed an acidic laugh, a laugh that reflected not bitterness, but a crispness that was larger than her small stature,and lighter than her thick skin. She was clearly the bright leader of the three sisters of Veneto. Rondinella always dressed in full make-up, well-colored and perfumed, her displays of ultra-femininity disguising a stout, hearty constitution. Molinara, pale and light, the most delicate of the three, echoed her beloved sister’s acidic-voiced laugh, quietly, subtly. Their laughter and conversation blended and mixed until you could hardly tell one from the other. They became as one in Valpolicello.

When it comes to wine and grapes, Italy confuses me. Though it makes wines with noble grapes, most regions in Italy depend on indigenous grapes, so many indigenous grapes. Perhaps, if I personify them all, put them into a story, I’ll be able to keep them straight.

There once were three brothers. Moscato, Arneis and Cortese were like the three white knights of the Piedmont. Though he was often a very sweet fellow, few people would openly admit that they liked Moscato. “Do you like Moscato?” “Yes, I do.” “Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “Why would I be ashamed?” “Oh, no reason…” The truth was, spending time with Moscato was like spending a late summer’s evening in a fragrant peach orchard, lovely, but at times too soft, too sweet. Arneis was elegant and exotic, and like his brother, sometimes a little flabby, rather than crisp. Cortese, was pleasant enough. He didn’t exude the flair and perfumes of his flabby brothers, but what he lacked in exotic characteristics he made up for in his structure and acidity. The white knights stayed in Piedmont to defend and protect their beautiful sisters, Barbera, who was quite elegant in her kingdom of Alba, unlike her cousin, also named Barbera, who could be a bit rough, having grown up in the hills of Asti. Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino and Brachetto, though not as bold as the Barberas, had some similar qualities, such as a crisp demeanor. Alas, the white knights were no match for the strength and power of Piedmont’s queen, Nebbiolo, perhaps the strongest ruler of all time. She commanded many areas, including Lombardy where she went by the name Valtellina-Chiavennasca, but was especially known for her work in Barolo and Barbaresco. She spoke in more feminine tones in Barbaresco, though still with strength and conviction. Wherever she went, she was recognized for her large, muscular, powerful frame…and her mustache.

And don’t get me started on the Sangiovese clan! Good old Sangiovese, so well-loved in Chianti. But, what on earth is in his past that every time he moves to a new town, he changes his name? In Montalcino he’s Brunello. In Montepulciano he goes by Prugnolo Gentile. And in Scansano, he’ll answer to Morellino. Was it his recent dalliances in Bolgheri with the sophisticated Bordeaux girls that, while it gave him the reputation of being ‘super,’ forced him to go incognito? He may be a devil, but he ages well and has so many interesting aspects to him. It’s no wonder he goes by so many different names.

Hey, Trebbiano! Malvasia! Pipe down, with your Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone! I can hear you all the way from Latium!

The action of the story has steered clear of Trentino-Alto Adige, with its German-style natives, including Traminer and his old friend, Muller-Thurgau. Nor has the story ventured into Friuli-Venezia-Guilia where are harbored four native characters, Refosco, the sister, and three brothers, Verduzzo, Picolit and Friulano, a distant relative to Sauvignon Blanc. I have yet to introduce Verdicchio, Marches’ neutral white grape. I have left Umbria and with it Grechetto, himself a bit nutty and his sister, Sagrantino, an intense gal who smokes. Perhaps, Falanghina isn’t even worth mentioning. He may be weak, but he manages to stand up to the volcanic ash soil of Campania. Aleatico hides out in Apulia, being far outshone by his much more famous sister, Primitivo. And before I can make it all the way to Sardinia to introduce Cannonau, who goes by her French name, Grenache when in Rhone and her brother, Vermentino, whose ancestors traveled here from Spain in the middle ages, and who may be distantly related to Malvasia up in Latium, I said ‘quiet!’ I realize that if I did try to personify every indigenous grape of Italy, I would have to write a story with more characters than can be found in a Russian novel. But unlike the Brothers Karamazov, the three sisters of Veneto lived happily ever after as did Prosecco, their party-boy brother.

The Perception of Aging in Tuscany

Casolino Chianti Classico, 2008

Tonight I’m having friends over for a wine tasting.  I’m using one of the suggested wine tastings from my online class at Wine Spectator.  The challenge was to find a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Classico Reserva from the same producer.  Then I needed to find a Rosso di Montalcino and a Brunello di Montalcino from the same producer.  All four wines are predominantly made from the Sangiovese grape.  The Montalcinos are 100% Sangiovese.  The Chiantis can be a blend but must be at least 75% Sangiovese, and many are more than that.  So, we’ll be comparing the same grape from two different regions in Tuscany, and aged for different periods of time.  I know theoretically what the differences should be, but tonight I’ll taste and experience the differences, and reinforce in my sensing memory the knowledge I’ve gained from my Tuscan wine class.

I had to visit 5 different stores in order to find the required wines.  As I went from store to store I brought with me my manilla folder with all my wine information in it.  Something happened because of that file folder.  The customer service I received in each store was a little more attentive.  One sales person after greeting me in a mildly friendly  way, glanced at my file folder, and stood up a little straighter.  Then he asked with a bit more interest, ‘How are you today?’  I think if I’d told him to straighten his tie, he would have done it.  I suppose the various salespeople thought I was on official business, perhaps reviewing and reporting on the store.  It’s funny how a small thing like a folder can change person’s perception of a person, if only slightly.

Casisano Colombaio, 2008 Rosso di Montalcino

Of the two Chianti Classicos, the Riserva is required by Italian law to age for 24 months before it is released.  The other Chianti Classico only has to age for 12 months before release.  Likewise, the Brunello di Montalcino must be aged for 48 months before it can be released.  The Rosso is only aged for 12 months.  For any wine, the longer it’s aged, the softer the tannins become, and the more integrated all the elements of the wine become.  If it’s a good wine to begin with, aging will soften it, and give it added dimension and complexity.

The other day while I was working out at the gym, a group of senior citizens were gathered around a machine, getting instruction from a personal trainer on how to use the machine.  He passed out diagram sheets to his clients and they dispersed to other machines in the area.  I happened to be working out on the leg extender nearby.  He came up to me and began giving me instruction.  I asked, ‘Why are you telling me how to use this machine?’  He replied that he was helping all the people in the group.  I wanted to say to him, ‘I’m not with that group.  Can’t you tell?!  Those people are old!  I’m not!’  But instead I politely explained to him that I’ve been working out for over 20 years (probably for longer than he’d been alive,) and I did not need help, thank you anyway.  I’m still a bit offended by his misperception.  However, as I age, I realize that I’ll be mistaken for an old person with greater frequency.

Casisano Colombaio, 2004 Brunnello di Montalcino

Tonight my friends and I will taste the wines, and try to identify the flavors, aromas and elements of each one.  I have pre-conceived notions about them based on what I’ve read.  After we’ve analyzed and compared all four wines, we’ll mix up the glasses and see if we can identify which wine is which.  Without the labels to read, I wonder how our perceptions will change.  I hope at least that I can tell the newer wines from the two that have been well aged.