Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Your place or mine?

Sangiovese vineyards outside Panzano-in-Chianti, Tuscany

On Facebook this morning I noted that an American wine writer named Tom Wark seemed to have trouble understanding: that PLACE was more important than grape variety or producer. (Here's a link to the article that caught my attention.) Why is that so hard to understand?

To which this reply, not from the author, by the way:
I'll tell you why it's so hard to understand: if there was a farm that raised three kinds of fowl, duck, chicken and goose...and then said farm went to market with a meat product called "Judy Farms Yummy Feathered Food" people would want to know what kind of "feathers" they're eating. But Judy would say "all the birds ate from the same terroir so it doesn't matter" and most people would say back "it matters to me! I like chicken but not duck!" In America we're very consumer first... We think knowing the ingredients in things comes right after "freedom of speech" in the constitution. That said, I think this 'controversy' will make this winemaker get a lot of press and conversations going.
Well, to continue that example -- there's nothing to prevent Judy Farms from selling both "Duck" and "Chicken" if they want to. Wine, on the other hand, isn't "feathered food." It's "grape food," which, unlike poultry, can be blended from different varieties. And poultry doesn't depend on soil, climate and yeast to taste like poultry. (It just tastes like chicken.)

As it happens, I've just spent five days in the zone of Tuscany that produces Chianti Classico wines from sangiovese grapes. If you add more than 10 percent of anything else, you can no longer call the wine Chianti Classico. If you grow the same grapes outside the zone, you can't call it Chianti Classico. The whole point of an appellation is to wear a name tag: Hi, I'm Ronald from Seattle. The guy over there kind of looks like me, and he's from Seattle, but that doesn't make him Ronald. That other Ronald, over there, he's from Bellevue. Close to Seattle, but not the same thing.

Now, that said, and with all due respect to the participants in the exercise, the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico sponsored a tasting of sangiovese wines from two neighboring zones, Radda-in-Chianti and Montalcino (home of the great Brunello di Montalcino). I wrote about it over on my blog, Cornichon, because I was surprised that the differences were subtle, even indistinguishable by the enologists and wine makers in attendance.

We think we want to know. We think that wine education will set us free. But it's not always true. Sometimes all we want to do is love the wine we're with.

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