A sad day in Dirtville (file under "ass" redux) - Printable Version

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- Botafogo - 08-08-2001 02:34 PM

A sad day in Dirtville

Any of you who have ever had the pleasure of meeting famed Italian wine author Victor Hazan (or his wife, Chef / Author Marcella) or read his works know that he is an absolutely passionate, poetic and honest man. We have often recommended his book "Italian Wine" to aficionados over other books with more raw data while noting that "if you just read the paragraph describing Roero Arneis you will be so jazzed you will call your travel agent and book a visit to Piemonte!". That book was published in 1982 and, while it is still a certifiable classic, we have been eagerly awaiting his updated views on the subject. So imagine our reaction upon reading in one of his recent essays that, after tasting wines the length and breadth of Enotria for three years in the late '90's, "I knew what I had to do. I asked my agent to return the publisher's advance and I wrote my editor to explain why I was abandoning the project. Why? I found I could not write a guide to Italian wines when I no longer recognized many of the wines being produced as being Italian. Following the examples set by Antinori and Gaja, the producers had begun to master a style of wine that drinkers and critics at home and abroad found irresistible: clinically perfect bottlings filled with massively concentrated fruit wrapped in easy, tender tannins and emitting the dulcet, toasty vanilla scent of new French oak familiar to wine drinkers everywhere."

Then he drops this bombshell: "These popular, well regarded examples of 'Italian' winemaking make me think of so many geishas, sweet smelling and thickly powdered, hiding any blemish or evidence of alarming individual character. They speak to us of those who fashioned them rather than the places where they were grown; they represent the triumph of style over substance, of image over identity. They could have been made anywhere"!!!!!!!!!

We had no sooner finished reading this than we were shown the current issue of America's most influential yet misguided wine newsletter featuring a round up of "great wine values" and nearly every Italian wine in it was made by the same wine "maker" who we heartily believe should be deported to Australia so he can fulfill his destiny. Then, ten minutes later, we see that one of these wines is the cover story Wine of the Month in one of our competitor's catalogues. Not an hour later, someone tries to sell us an alleged Ribera del Duero (one of Spain's most heralded zones, justifiably famous for earthy, traditional wines of medium body that smell of aged meat and DIRT, not black currents and vanilla) that has the consistency of port and tastes like Aussie Merlot all the while invoking the name of two of the zone's most traditional producers for credibility.

Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!!!!! Thankfully we had a nice Amarone within reach or we might have killed someone... Why do we care so passionately about this? Because we fear that we are living in the transitional age and in as little as ten years ALL wine will taste like the "geishas" above and no one will even remember what REAL wine is supposed to be like!

As is our wont, we will throw in some musical analogies: Which is a more authentic plea of enduring love, that insufferably perfect and overproduced Celine Dion song from "Titanic" or Aretha Franklin purring "You make me feel like a natural woman" to her own sparse piano accompaniment? Can you really tell The Back Street Boys from In'S'ynch from O-Town without looking at a video of the song in question? Brian Wilson is a genius as an arranger and chose to go to warp nine in producing "Good Vibrations" yet stripped "Sloop John B" down to the musical bone to let its simple melody and wistful emotions shine through.....we could go on for days! But instead, we will bring you some truly authentic wines:

Wine of the Week: Pesenti Private Stock "Red Velvet", California
This is one of the most traditional, Italian American wineries in California, churning out large quantities of classic Southern Italian style sturdy reds a great prices since 1934. Many of you went gaga over an Amarone styled Zin we offered a few years ago and we have just now re-established distribution. Sadly though, just in time for the winery to be acquired by a famous wine "maker" who will no doubt increase the price of the wines by ten fold while destroying their very essence in the process (and we do mean "process"). An ominously worded quote from the web site notes that "Since the purchase, a major retrofit of the cellar has taken place and a tremendous amount of energy has been spent improving viticultural practices. The original winery now houses state-of-the-art winemaking equipment. This newly updated facility allows for natural winemaking techniques allowing the intensely concentrated grapes to reveal their true terroir." Now either the winemaking is natural (ala Pepe or Bea) or it's "state of the art", not both, and we are convinced this will be the last great wine from this estate. It was a real wowzer at last night's Il Forno tasting, no one thought it could cost less than $15 and we strongly suggest you pour it for your wine geek friends blind and watch them twitch! Then tell them it's just $5.99!!!


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- Botafogo - 08-11-2001 11:06 AM

I find it amazing that NO ONE here has any opinion on the above story about Victor this thing on?

- hotwine - 08-11-2001 01:29 PM

What a shame! Artistry is expendable in pursuit of the dollar. Nothing is sacred, everything is for sale. "Transitional" is an apt description, Roberto; we're transitioning ourselves straight to hell in a bucket of homogenized plonk.

- Thomas - 08-11-2001 06:43 PM

We have gone over this subject a few times Roberto. I stand on your side, but fear we are increasingly diminishing in number. Even on this board you shall find many of those bombs revered...and you know who you are!

- RAD - 08-12-2001 05:00 PM

Allow me to defend myself first! [img][/img]

While I love fruit-bomb wines as much as anyone, I believe my own tastes are rather eclectic, and run the gamut from international to old-world styles (witness my pleasure of a Salice Salentino I stumbled across not long back).

Roberto, I always love your impassioned arguments, and often pose myself as a foil just for the hell of it; but as Foodie mentioned, we've been 'round this course before.

I will say this: while I'm all for nostalgia, character flaws, and the like, I'm also at heart a humanist, and have a belief that things can often be improved upon. Instead of Roberto's metaphor that many of these "international"-style (for lack of a better word) wines are powdered, unnatural geisha girls, I ask (and continue in the testosterone vein) why can't they be beautiful, un-made-up, 100% natural Lara Crofts? Except one's a blonde, one's a redhead, one's a brunette... [img][/img]

I, for one, believe there can be many different shades of perfection.


- Botafogo - 08-12-2001 05:07 PM

Uhhhh, duuuuuude, Lara Croft is a product of computer animation so you are just making our point. And, it wasn't me, it was Victor Hazan, perhaps THE authority (in English anyway) on Italian wines who invoked geishas. I wouldn't have been so kind. I think "silicone injected, tattooed, bleach blond, stripper headed towards porno star wanna-bees" is more apt for some of the wines presented to me.

We HAVE discussed tradtional, place based style versus chemical and mechanical manipulation before but I think that wondering what people will have for a reference ten or twenty or fifty years from now is a new area for much comptemplation / consternation...



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- Thomas - 08-12-2001 07:21 PM

Silly me; I was about to ask who is Lara Croft...

Not sure, RAD, if I agree that perfection can come in many different shades; as an artist, I know that perfection is merely a desire, hardly ever is it a reality. But we are not talking perfection with wine; we are talking essence of the product.

Like Roberto, I think wine is a living organism that carries the stamp, or at least it should, of the place from which it was grown and produced. If all wine were manufactured, as many are these days, to appeal to one taste, consistently, then all wine will ultimately taste the same. And although these same-tasting wines might be as beautiful as Lara Croft in the eyes of some beholders, the fact remains that they would reflect neither a place nor a producer but a synthetic, yet marketable idea. What a tragedy that would be.

- RAD - 08-12-2001 07:28 PM

C'mon guys, we're getting a little too worked up about this.

Boto, as per my METAPHORICAL use of Lara Croft, I was not talking about the computer-generated version, hence my use of the many descriptive adjectives, especially "natural." And if that was someone else's use of geisha, so be it. You know me, I'm usually just playing devil's advocate around here.

Foodie, I'm all for a wine being somewhat indicative of its place of origin; but as I mentioned ad nauseum in a post several months back that I'm too lazy to dig up (a post again started by Boto, if memory serves [img][/img] ), the notion of "origin," country, or source is one that is constantly changing anyway, albeit on a larger chronographical scale.

And as per the notion of different shades of perfection: we'd all need to read Milton's _Paradise Lost_ before we ventured down that road... [img][/img]


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- Botafogo - 08-12-2001 08:49 PM

Rad, are you FROM NYC? If so, I would be willing to bet that if you were forced to live here in LaLa you would be another one of those expats posting five times a day on LA.eats demanding to know where you could find some "authentic" NYC pizza, bagels, seltzer water and even (and this is really funny considering the depth of serious asian influence here) "authentic" NYC Chinese Food!!! GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!

These things are important because in the (near?) future they will probably not exist unless we piss and moan at every vendor and importer and producer that we want real wine, not the Wonder Bread meets Budweiser equivalent of wine.


- Bucko - 08-12-2001 11:24 PM

Uhhh, did anyone see Castaway? I watched it this afternoon and I thought it sucked a big one.....


- Thomas - 08-13-2001 10:21 AM

I ain't gonna touch the "chronographical" scale with a twelve foot chronometer, and I ain't even gonna go to the lost paradise of perfection..these things is ouddamyleeg.

All I know is wine, food, music and words-- each has history and pedigree to protect, and I shall fight alongside Roberto to protect them (on opposite coasts, of course, I like the bagels and pizzas in NYC. Was just saying something about bagels to my wife yesterday--can't even get a good one in neighboring New Jersey, but I hear that they do produce decent wine from their soil.)

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- Botafogo - 08-13-2001 10:30 AM

Foodie, I wasn't dissing the pizzas & bagels, I was using them as another reference for something that seems to be terroir driven (everyone says it's the NYC water) and that people recognize immediately as authentic or not when given a sample.

Here's a thought experiment:

Imagnine if (when???) the beancounters at Guinness decide that, three hundred years of Irish history, tradition and pride be damned, they would sell more beer if it had less color and flavor (really just the opposite of the Barolo debate where the infidels insist on MORE color and flavors) yet still call it "Guinness" and even have the nerve to call it "new and improved". Would that get anyone's dander up?


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- Thomas - 08-13-2001 12:30 PM

...didn't think you were dissing the stuff--just thought I would be cute with the remark. Incidentally, it ain't the water; it's the expertise and the secret recipes, plus the grime that fills the air and permeates our every substance...

Remember, on this one, I am on your side, now where did I put that copy of Milton?

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- Botafogo - 08-13-2001 12:59 PM

Re the grime: a recent very hot debate on our local restaurant news group about the NY Pizza taste (which involved chemistry majors telling how brewers and bakers the world over routinely recondition water to recreate classic styles) ground to a halt when the effect of "the grime, soot and visible air" on both the materials themselves and the palates of tasters when they are in NYC vs LA (thus rendering the results even more subjective) came up.......


- Botafogo - 08-13-2001 01:06 PM

Foodie, we should open a winery (called Luddite Cellars, natch) and produce just two proprietary blends:

Tastes like sucking on a pebble from a mountain stream (our white and it won't be sissy!)


Ass / musk / forest floor meets Puglian dirt clod (our red, released ten years after the vintage)

If we only make five cases of each and price them at $250 per bottle on release, we should be famous in short order....

Cheers and off to a very late breakfast, Roberto

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- cpurvis - 08-13-2001 01:34 PM

Jus' appreciatin' diversity here: RAD takin' us to literary heights & Roberto keepin' us mindful of the dirt below.

I'm standin' on the Roberto/Foodie side of the fence...occasionally leanin' over to sniff that other stuff...'course, if I close my eyes, I can't tell if I sniffed Calif. chard or the fence post.

Question Roberto: for all the expression of terroir in terms of dirt, tar, etc., fruit must surely remain a flavor option. So, since some of the Italians (who I believe that you support) use partially dried fruit, is it not possible to get a 'fruit bomb' (or at least juice w/ a powerful rush of fruit w/ underlying earth notes) that fits your definiton of real wine?


- Botafogo - 08-13-2001 03:39 PM

When you use appasito (carefully, slowly dehydrating grapes INDOORS, not making raisins in the sun) to make dry red wine you usually get more of an aged meat thing and also mute the fruit at least two shades: varietals that normally smell of raspberries suddenly exude blackberry / currant aromas and varietals that are already dark and brooding become much more so. It's not just about losing water but transforming the flavor profile: the net affect is more like premature aging than mere concentration of fruit as the grapes change radically in an unlinear fashion on the drying racks.

As to fruit being an allowable element in a traditional wine, of course it is but it is NOT the third most important thing let alone the first in most styles. But, wines like Lacrima di Morro d'Alba and Moscato Rosa are SUPPOSED to be fruit bombs. Our outrage is generally directed towards those who pervert wines like Barolo, Sagrantino di Montefalco and Aglianico del Vulture into Aussie Shiraz wannabees.....


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- RAD - 08-13-2001 07:08 PM

Boto (and the rest; great thread here!)--

No, I ain't "from NYC." I'm a Southern Redneck that eventually moved north to get some education and later learned that education alone don't pay the bills.

I won't resort to tit-for-tat ad hominem slander, but to satisfy your curiosity, I would never be one of those in LA who bitches and gripes about "authentic" NY food (I thought it was apparent by my views on wine that I don't think you have to be at "the source" to produce something as good as the original). Philosophically, I'm a poststructural deconstructionist with the occasional nihilist bent; for me, everything is context.

As I've opined previously, I am not of the belief that wine, nor any other entity, will ever morph into a homogenous whole, driven by a bunch of lemming-minded consumers. On the contrary, as soon as things become a bit too extracted, a bit too fruit-bombish, some Madison Avenue ad wiz or Chilean garagiste expat or Puglian vintner will declare ASS-wine the Next Big Thing, and we'll all feel a little bit better. It's all about ebb and flow, ebb and flow....

As for me, I'm enjoying a 1998 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which has a lot of cherry on the nose and palate, along with a touch of anise and some DIRT!!! [img][/img] It's really quite nice.

Boto, I'd be interested in your thoughts on this wine--as well as anyone else!


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- Botafogo - 08-13-2001 07:55 PM

Here's some context for you:

If you are coming from, say, Vitiano (faceless, chemically manipulated Umbrian Merlot) to Avignonesi then it would seem a step in the right direction. BUT, If you compared it with wines from the same winery from as little as ten years ago, you would see they are running HARD towards the middle of the bell curve.

Two years ago we remarked on two things re this winery at a party they hosted in Verona for 2000 of their distributors and final consumer vendors worldwide:

A) They spent gigabucks on food, renting a castle and an opera performance yet NO ONE ever addressed any of us on a group or individual basis about anything (including such basics as "Hello", "good evening" or "thanks for supporting our wines"). VERY strange...

B) They had over fifty wines from various wineries they controlled all set out on one big table, ranging from Avignonesi to Spanish properties to Aussie and Chilean stuff and they ALL tasted the same (overextracted and way over oaked) except one Spanish wine that they had just bought but not changed the vinification of yet. That's the one we drank with dinner!

which leads us to

C) we haven't sold their wines in years (we were drug to the dinner above by their distributor here in a vain attempt to show us how much the wines had "improved").


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- Botafogo - 08-13-2001 08:00 PM

>> I thought it was apparent by my views on wine that I don't think you have to be at "the source" to produce something as good as the original<<

Rad, I was not making an ad hominem attack, I was asking a baxkground question as I find that many people say the above when talking about OTHER people's traditions and heritage (Italian wine, Brasilian Music, Polish food) but go completely ballistic when you touch a nerve in THEIR cultural DNA: cries of "But that's different!" errupt and rational discussion ceases.....