Paul, I thought you might enjoy a portion of a presentation I saw given by Hugh Johnson on the history of wine in Italy. One thought that has remained with me ever since:
It’s an extraordinary fact that there is a typical Italian taste from wines from all the diverse parts of Italy. “I can’t explain it, but I am sure it is real.”
I've haven't forgotten this comment, and it really does seem true.
Extract from lecture:
Hugh Johnson – “A Bottled History of the Wines of IT.” [$20]. Program: “Many people are aware that the Romans were great lovers of wine and planted many of what are today Europe’s greatest vineyards. How did Italy’s wine culture progress from this storied period to produce the world class wines of today? Renowned wine expert Hugh Johnson will recount Italy’s indispensable role in the history of wine, and how their great wines came to be. Johnson will guide you through a tasting of some of Italy’s best known wines, and will provide his unique insights into their development over the centuries. This is a great opportunity to experience once of the legends of wine as he presents the history behind the wines you enjoy today.”
Johnson said that the history of wine in Italy was “bumpy”, and really only about 20 years old in the minds of most people. Before then, there were no public relations initiatives, and to most people Italian wine meant Chianti in cute straw encased bottles (originally created to protect the fragile glass). In fact, the history of wine in Italy is thousands of years old; this is a short history with six wines as the “slides” that illustrate that history. Much of what Johnson said can be found in his Story of Wine, but the presentation was very interesting and may serve as the basis for an interesting tasting of your own.
The soul of Italy is red wine; “The first duty of wine is to be red.”
Italian wines are made to go with food, as most wines should be. Scoring is ridiculous with these wines; “Show winners are not good company.”
For analytical purposes, Johnson suggested dividing fruit aromas and tastes between soft and stone fruits.
Johnson discussed the difference between color and hue; hue is light if you can read text on white paper through the wine, deep if you cannot.
Italian wines are astringent, rather than tannic; “tannic” is a better word to describe French wines.
Balance describes the tension between fruit on the one hand and tannin or astringency on the other.
It’s an extraordinary fact that there is a typical Italian taste from wines from all the diverse parts of IT. “I can’t explain it, but I am sure it is real.”
Structure is a very useful word, like a house with cellar, walls, attic. How a wine is held together. “It’s an event in your mouth, not just a drink passing through.”
Each capital city has a vineyard. Bordeaux for London. Burgundy for Paris, etc. Only great cities have the large middle class necessary to support a flourishing wine trade. Napa grew in large measure because San Francisco was nearby, and medical, banking and legal professionals liked wine and supported it.
Bottles used to be very expensive. Wine was bottled only when sold; until then, it had to be kept in barrels until point of sale. When bottles became available, winemakers could decide when to bottle, and the quality of wine improved dramatically.
Johnson described with great verve his rating system, which can be found in his annual pocket encyclopedias: “One sniff, two sniff … two bottles. I’ll have a case, no two cases. Damn it, we’ll have the vineyard!”
Great length is the most important factor in distinguishing better wines. The longer the taste last, the more pleasure you will find. If the lasts for over a minute without changing flavor, the better it appears: I’ll have a case, no two cases. Damn it, we’ll have the vineyard.”