Deciphering the Italian wine world: for many Americans Italian wine still a mysteryinserito da Franco Ziliani
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Reading columns, features and articles on newspapers and magazines published in the provincial regions of the US, away from large metropolitan areas, we understood not only that the apprenticeship on wines in the US is very much a work in progress, but also that our wine, the wine that we are so rightly proud of, is still somewhat a fascinating mystery for many people.
Entitled “How to improve wine service in restaurants”, it lists suggestions about offering wines by the glass, keeping mark-ups at acceptable levels, charging reasonable corkage fees to patrons who choose the BYOB option and coming up with a weekly “free BYOB night”.
But there is also something else being proposed, something that one would not expect to find on an American newspaper, least of all a Californian one. They are writing about offering a “house wine” reasonably priced and available by the glass or the half or full carafe.
It is a good thing to talk about buying wine from a nearby producer, a bit of ecological activism that helps reduce pollution and that fits well into the “locavore” logic, but we are still talking about “house wine”...
The second example that shows how, when it comes to wine, despite the increases in exports, local production and consumption, the American hinterland still lacks full confidence, comes from two columns written on the Ashland Daily Tidings by Lorn Razzano, owner of a Wine Cellar in Ashland, a town of 20,000 in Jackson County, Oregon.
In the two articles (here and here) Razzano, who is of Italian-Piedmontese descent, explains how, for many customers, the Italian wines that Americans begin to appreciate more and more, still belong to a mysterious universe, populated by hard-to-pronounce names, labels that tell you very little (and, above all, not written in English) and an endless variety of wine and grapes names that still fail to communicate anything meaningful to the typical consumer.
Unfortunately this type of consumer needs to be introduced to wines carrying names such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Soave, Salice Salentino and does not care that they are from the Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Garganega or Negroamaro grapes.
Yes, it's true: these days the Internet comes to Mr. John Doe's aid: on the Web he can find explanations and news about those wines and designations that, to them, mean so much less than Cabernet, Napa Valley o Barossa Valley Shiraz. But, confirms Lorn Razzano, much work remains to be done, to build up the trust necessary to establish between the relatively naive average American consumer and the many wines of our Country.
I am rather surprised that Mr. Razzano considers a positive factor the tendency by many Italian producers of listing on the back labels not only the data concerning the grape variety used, the production area and its geographical position in the Italian “booth”, but also an organoleptic description of the wine. It is like affirming that writing how a certain wine is reminiscent of cherries rather than blackberries or that it has soft tannins, rather than high acidity, might make that wine better understood, rather than the consumers' very own palates telling them what they like and why.
I would not wish that, in order to win over and reassure a certain kind of consumer, we wind up promising them soft tannins, juicy roundedness and fruitiness where there is none to be found...
Despite the problems of lack of understanding and of the many mysterious aspects still affecting a large swath of the American public, Mr. Razzano writes, Italian wines can always count on a secret weapon: their ability to “speak” and to make themselves understood whenever savored in a context allowing their freedom of expression: not when drunk by themselves as you would a beverage, but when brought to the table, paired with food, thus allowing the consumer's taste buds to confirm the unique, fantastic ability of wine to bring out the best characteristics of many a dish.
As Lorn Razzano so aptly writes: “For the Italian people, drinking wine without food is as bizarre as eating food without wine. It is my opinion that to understand Italian wine well, one just has to pair it with cuisine. In this manner, all of the flavors from the food and the wine are complemented and the true spirit of the event is fully appreciated”.
Indeed, if we intend to “decipher” it, to capture its most authentic nature and its “true spirit”, it is at the dinner table that, in the United States too, we must put Italian wine forward.