Wine Stories Valentina Vargiu

The great cliché of Italian wine

The great cliché of Italian wine

Now that sociologists and historians have deigned to interpret winemaking matters, it would be interesting to read their analysis of the great cliché of Italian wine. The 1990s were the years of the Jacobin revolution, which we could strictly define as the years “of barriques”. There wasn’t a white or red that could hope to be taken seriously without a period, however brief, in French oak. The anarchical Veronelli saw models from the other side of the Alps as masterpieces to copy.

The French myth

And so our myths were born, which funnily enough are often defined (and I’ll leave it to you, expert readers, to understand which wines we are talking about) “the Pauillac of Bolgheri”, “the Romanée-Conti of Sicily”, “the Montrachet of the Langhe”, “the Pétrus of Lazio”, “the Champagne of Trento”. All monstrously good wines, ça va sans dire. And behind Veronelli’s vibrant and influential prose, an elegant French lady took care to sell these miraculous barriques, not without creating some sarcasm.

The years of purity

It is no surprise then, that the first decade of the century were the years of reactionary rejection, of vaguely national-socialist inspiration, i.e. the years of “purity”. It was also the first time people noticed that not everybody in the world allowed themselves be bewitched by the Francophone allure. In fact, to strike at the heart of the inattentive consumer, it was necessary to equip yourself with more modern and effective weapons, with aggressive marketing, recognisable grape varieties and a certain drive: California could teach us something. Therefore, American-style Chardonnay and Cabernet, New Zealand-style Sauvignon, Australian Syrah, which we started to define as “international” rather than French, won over the world markets.

Native is beautiful

Varietal wines burst onto the scene, and at the holy banquets (today’s wine-tastings) crowds of novice sommeliers sang the boring chorus to the astonished, onlooking producers: “and a monovarietal?”, “just Sangiovese?”, “100% Chardonnay?” In the monovarietal rhetoric, an adjective of a nationalistic flavour easily inserted itself, which was already intriguing certain drinkers who were tired of the uniformity to Bordeaux: the first decade of the century were the years “of the native” variety, of the rediscovery of rare and ancient local varieties. Passerina, Pugnitello, Pecorello, Pecorino suddenly deserved more attention and respect than the poor, previously praised and then disparaged, Merlot.

Minimal taste. Absolute boredom

It is perhaps not a coincidence that, riding on the long wave of native monovarietals, the Brunello scandal broke, which had been bastardised with French genes in the previous decade to satisfy the international palate, while the Supertuscans, made “Super” by this noble marriage of a European nature (Sangiovese with Cabernet and/or Merlot), started to reduce the printed characters on tech sheets where the varieties were written. Better to avoid embarrassing questions about the purity of the breed. And here we are in the present, in the second decade of the century. Tired of the absolute, which is intoxicating at the start and then begins to get boring, disillusioned with an American or French myth, we are entering into a decade of minimalism or of “doing without”.

Burgundy the new model

Inspired by Steve Jobs’ maxim, less is more, today we love to communicate by subtraction. On the table everything is sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free, egg-free. Wines are made without weedkillers in the vineyard, fermented without sulphites, disgorged without dosage and… obviously, aged without barriques. And the reds are without colour, if possible, because today we are looking for an anorexic elegance, after decades of fat wines. The dominant standard has shifted from Bordeaux to Burgundy.

The great cliché of Italian wine. Stop imitating!

We have returned to the starting point: a great Barolo evokes Chambertin. And now we open the chapter of the next decade, when we will all be aware of our value, of the unique nature of our designations, of our estates, to abandon once and for all the race to imitate. Without worrying too much about our great cliché, barriques, monovarietals and sulphites. Without fear. The next decade could be without complexes or the years “of authenticity”.

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