Italian Wines 2007 came to San Francisco's Fort Mason on Thursday, March 21. Not every wine shined, but most of the people did. They had not only dressed in fantastic, glossy outfits of unparalleled poshness, but the greater portion seemed to be Italian and had evidently flown all the way here to sip these wines.
That impresses me, as I tend not to go beyond a three-mile radius of my home most days. I was also impressed because I don't dress very well.
The wine: Much of it was a bit nondescript. Unlike American varietal wines which are often dominated by easy-to-name fruit flavors, these Italian wines were largely blends of several grapes that carried few distinguishing characteristics. It was also almost impossible to read the bottles and learn what was in the wine. Have you ever seen an Italian word? My gosh, they can be so long! And they come in schools of a dozen or more, with accents in every direction and so many syllables, even on a bottle of the most mediocre wine! And with the crowds flooding forward to get in on the pouring, it was often not possible to ask what kind of wine it was we had been served. I spoke to several winemakers, though, and I learned for a fact that about half of the wines I tried were obscure blends of three or more varietals.
Cartlidge and Browne Winery in American Canyon, among others in the state, focuses on making varietally correct wines. Paul Moser is the winemaker there and he told me once that he appreciates varietals and the characteristics that make them unique. So do I, and that is why the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Festival in January and other single-grape tasting events strongly appeal to me. Differences in flavor and aroma can still be great between individual wines – a facet which will inspire curiosity in the observant taster – but simultaneously one learns to recognize the spectrum of characteristic qualities that make the showcased varietal unique.
At Italian Wines 2007, there was no commonality that linked the wines together other than the boot of Italy itself and a few adjacent islands, and so there was no mystique or wonder when one wine tasted like pure pineapple – the 2004 Gewurztraminer Passito Terminum – and another tasted like a light Petite Sirah with its edges polished down – the 2003 Tenores Badde Nigolosu; such differences were expected. I recall another wine which the lady behind the tasting table told us was actually a pure varietal wine – 100 percent Merlot. It was also $100 per bottle, she said. In surprise, I spat involuntarily, all over the place, but it’s all right: I was headed for the spit bucket anyway. I just wasn’t impressed by the astringent, soily bite of this Italian Merlot. “Why so expensive?” I asked, wiping my chin with my silk handkerchief. “We only produced 600 cases,” she answered. In other words, because they neglected to make any more than a few bottles of this juice, they reason to sell it for an unfathomable price. Outrageous, yet people buy it: “This wine sells itself,” she bragged.
A moment later I caught sight of a nearby celebrity: Marcia Gagliardi, the illustrious author of Tablehopper.com. I am a gigantic fan. Aren't you? She swoops from restaurant to restaurant throughout the Bay Area and writes dainty musings about the food, and people everywhere love her for it. Well, anyway, I was too shy to say anything and I soon lost her in the crowd of Italians, who swarmed thicker than ever now. It was 7 p.m., the night was young and planeload after planeload of these handsome Europeans continued to enter the pavilion. Have you ever seen an Italian? Talk about beautiful people! And their voices: so musical! The sonorous tones surrounded me, and lengthy sentences of many syllables, countless vowels and operatic gusto swirled about the huge hall like clouds over Vesuvius. But, oh, where was a Zinfandel when I needed one?