Beautiful weather here in Piedmont with visits to Sandrone, Voerzio, Vajra and Burlotto. Tomorrow we’re going to Barbaresco before heading to Tuscany for the ColleMassari music festival which has become a major event of its kind.
The red grape harvest will be gently on its way within ten days, while white grapes are already being picked. It rained so much this winter that there was no water shortage during August which has been dry, without damaging the vine... except for the hail that hit here and there, especially Luciano Sandrone’s Dolcettos. His Baroli were not affected though, thank goodness!
We can never praise the outstanding human qualities of Piedmontese winemakers enough. They know how to play host with elegant simplicity, they talk more about others than themselves, when we all have growing concern for the economic uncertainties that affect all European vineyards. Don’t forget that on these steep hills, a beautiful and competent domain needs to sell its bottles between €18 and €22! Which is not cheap! As for the selling prices which have not changed, I am told that for they’ve had to double the staff for a little over ten years in order to attain the same production volume. This is especially true for the administrative staff since the authorities seem to thrive on complicating the lives of these winemakers. Are Italy and France cut from the same cloth?
As far as Italy is concerned, US sales have declined significantly, and the penetration of Asian markets (in which Italy is severely delayed) has only just begun. Even a veteran of the likes of Roberto Voerzio, who has not flown for decades, is taking up his pilgrim's staff to spread the good word here and there. Which just goes to show you!
My visit here is motivated by the desire to organize a magnificent dinner at Villa d'Este in which we will only be serving wines of this fascinating region. Whites, reds and soft "frizzante". The purpose will certainly not be to generate comparisons that have no place within the World Wine Symposium, but rather to show, with one representative from each appellation, the many varieties that are available to amateurs like us (Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo d'Alba, Barbaresco and Barolo for the reds; Arneis and Riesling - oh yes - for the whites, and other rare bottles in this color). A Moscato d'Asti for the great finale, of course.
The reception is very positive, and I hope to put together a superior selection. Thank you in advance to all the Piedmontese producers who will be a major support. As for white truffles: the recent lack of rain means that they are rather rare and, as a consequence, many truffles will have to be baptized "alba": combinazione!
Here, as elsewhere, producers are increasingly forced to stay "under the radar", to engage in quality events and I found out that they are ready to register for the Bettane & Desseauve Grand Tasting event, even though they know that seats are constricted and limited. If you are in Paris late November, don’t miss this important event which should also feature a London edition. Not sure the good people over at “Decanter” will appreciate this as Marvin Shanken who surely raised an eyebrow when the Bordeaux people thought about organizing such an event in NYC (it has since been canceled). A lot of tact and persuasion will be needed as well as that Gallic spirit which Desseauve has loads of.
Tonight we’re staying at Locanda del Ciau the Tornavento (Treiso), which is simply superb. Beautiful rooms, with prices that are dirt cheap compared to the quality of services, especially Maurilio Garolla’s cuisine which remains a unmissable reference here in Alba. In short, Piedmont wine, hills and gastronomy is as close to paradise as it gets for us aficionados, pagan or otherwise. The Lord of the possible Hereafter cannot possibly fail to consider this aspect of our earthly lives. It had to be said.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
As per usual, we’re discussing GUIDES; the very hardcovers in which, year in, year out, critics and journalists give out marks according to knowledge, moods and preferences, which can vary significantly based on criteria which are not always very clear, which remain little or unexplained or subject to contingencies which could or could not be beneficial for the producers who work hard for a full year to read numbers or witness stars being distributed without being able to challenge any of it. It’s tough being a winemaker! Are there any other jobs which are so dependent on others?
Thus, the discussion focuses on scoring methods.
The thing to consider is as follows; more and more GUIDES are receiving samples and some of them have the integrity to mention the fact that they do not accept these free items while others dodge the problem by buying the wines. But let us be clear: the majority of them do not have a budget for it.
Added to this is the fact that (not that this is a generalization, obviously) some domains do not hesitate to prepare “enhanced” samples to be sent out as gifts to said GUIDES. This is frequently discussed in Bordeaux and also here in Piedmont.
Here is the idea as it was explained to me: GUIDES buy wines from traders / importers / wine shops and then with receipts in hand, ask to be reimbursed by the winemakers who would have previously agreed to it.
Sure, it would extra work for a secretary; it would also require a budget and some complex research. But it’s something to think about.
And as far as I’m concerned, of course, this would also require these GUIDES to be committed to mark the content and not the label. Ok, maybe not even in my wildest dreams...
People will assail me from all sides with lots of arguments, some of which are likely to be valid; still! Seeing the decline in sales of these GUIDES, isn’t it time for publishers to give readers some new principles to mitigate the shortcomings that affect what’s printed?
A Freisa Kyé de Vajra tonight: isn’t it a rather fine choice for a fleeting vagabond?