Pessimist by nature that I am, my fears about the state of the wine universe were revived by two incidents within the space of one week.
When the check engine light came on on a Thursday afternoon, I called my excellent and innovative car mechanic, who has the additional distinction of being a dedicated wine connoisseur, and he proposed that if I were coming to his wife’s gallery opening the next evening he would bring his computer along and run out during the exhibit to check on the problem. The only unexpected wrinkle for me was that when I got there, he entrusted me with the wine-pouring duties.
The first person who approached, a woman more or less my age, smiled and said, “I’ll have a glass of the chardonnay please.” I tried not to look nonplussed. Why, I wondered, did she think the white wine on the table was a chardonnay? My thoughts suddenly went back to a moment in the mid-eighties when I was having lunch at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Four white-haired and very formal ladies (is my imagination embellishing things, if I think that one of them even had on white gloves?) were at the table next to me and I happened to overhear one say to the waitperson, “I’ll have a glass of chardonnay.”
It’s happened!, I thought at the time, the marketing folks have succeeded in making chardonnay drinkers out of those who up until recently most likely would have asked for a glass of chablis. The irony being, of course, that it wouldn’t have been Chablis at all, which actually is made from the chardonnay grape as are almost all white Burgundies. A chablis by the glass back then would have come from those three liter jugs that still lurk on the bottom shelves of some wine shops and are made from who knows what, though I suspect many of them have been replaced by wine boxes.
The wine I was in charge of pouring at this moment, however, was the Inama Soave Classico. Soaves come from the Veneto region of Italy, not far from the picture-book city of Verona. The “classico” part of the name is important as it indicates the original, hillside vineyards of the Soave zone before expansion was made into the plains below, formerly planted to grains. The hillside vineyards provide conditions, such as stronger variation in day to night temperatures, that give the wines a distinctive character. And this particular wine lived up to the measure. Crisp and green appley, with good body and a lingering finish.
The Soave that first hooked me on the charm of these wines was that of Roberto Anselmi, whose vineyards are on the hillside slopes of Monteforte. In 2000 he quit the consorzio, which sets the viticultural regulations for the region, because he felt the quality of the wines, and thus the reputation of the appellation, was being lowered by the new standards. It’s reassuring to know that there are conscientious winemakers willing to take a stand to preserve the integrity of their wines.
The Anselmi 2010 San Vincenzo shows a characteristic nutty aroma and peachy fruit with all that implies about the juiciness of its mouthfeel.
Other good producers of Soaves include Pieropan and Pra.
So what am I afraid of? That we, as wine drinkers, by a lack of attention might see wines such as these cede their place on the shelves of wine shops to the latest fad wine with a catchy name.
A few days later I ran into an old friend and colleague from the wine business who was showing some of his wines at a nearby restaurant. He poured me a taste of the first wine, the Deusa Nai Albariño from Marques de Caceres, and went off to talk to the restaurant’s owner. My first impression was how aromatic it was for an albariño. Next, I lingered with pleasure over the seductive texture it had. By the time he was back, I was completely won over. “I love this wine,” I told him.
“Well, you won’t find any of it for sale around here,” he said ruefully.
“Oh, for any number of reasons. Either the buyer thinks the customer doesn’t know what an albariño is, or it’s too hard to sell in a store, or the sommelier thinks it’s too intense for an albariño, or if it’s for a wine by the glass, they figure the consumer would prefer to have pinot grigio, or …”
So I’m making a plea. Fellow wine lovers, do be adventurous, try new things, ask for them, and don’t let one disappointment discourage you.