Broccoli, Batali’s Law & Deconstructing Italian Wine at Vino 2015

Last week I wrote about Batali’s Law and how it applies to Italian wine in general and to Vino 2015, the recent Italian wine event in New York, in particular. Batali’s Law, for those of you who had too much Opus One and were napping along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, holds that there is no such thing as “Italian food,” there are only the diverse regional cuisines of Italy. Complicated things are best understood in complicated ways.

The application of Batali’s Law to wine is straightforward. We talk about “Italian wine” all the time, but what is it? Show me a bottle of wine that defines Italy. No, Italy is too big and diverse from a wine (or food) standpoint to be summed up so simply. There is no such think as Italian wine, only the diverse regional wines of Italy.

The seminars at Vino 2015 explored this theme very effectively. Two in particular stand out in my mind.

Italian Sparklers: Zraly Flips Out

One of the highlights (for me) of Vino 2015 was the opportunity to see Kevin Zraly, author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 30th Anniversary Edition. in action. (You can read my enthusiastic review of the book here.) Zraly was invited to moderate a panel discussion on the topic of “Italy Outsparkles the Competition — from Prosecco to Franciacorta and Beyond!”

The only problem (according to Kevin) was that the organizers never bothered to invite anyone else to speak at the session! I don’t think it was an oversight, either. I think they wanted Kevin Zraly to work his magic unfettered, which he did magnificently. He “flipped” the seminar, as we say in academics, making the audience the panel. And thus a room full of wine industry and media professionals were led by Zraly to make their own examination of Batali’s Law applied to Italian sparkling wines. What fun. Bravo Kevin!

We began, as you might expect, with Prosecco, which is so very popular these days. We only tasted one Prosecco, the Tre Venti 2013 vintage from Zardetto, but we could have drilled much deeper — I have written about the huge variety of distinctive wines that exist under the Prosecco umbrella. Then we moved from white to pink (the Belcanto Cuvee Rosé Brut from Bellussi) to deep dark red (the remarkable sparkling Vernaccia Nera by Alberto Quacquarini, made with 60 percent dried grapes according to my  notes).

Franciacorta was next (Bellavista 2008 Brut) and an unexpected wine from Alba in the Piedmont, a 100% Chardonnary Rocche dei Manzoni di Valentino Brut Riserva 2001.  And we finished up on a sweet note with the Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Aqui.

It was quite a tour of sparkling styles and regions and since there were just six wines I think we really didn’t scratch the surface. So many more wines and styles, so much more diversity.

 Drilling Down into the World of Sicilian Wine

The second seminar could not have been more different from the first and yet it served to further reinforce the Batali’s Law theme. Bill Nesto MW (author with Frances Di Savio of The World of Sicilian Wine — see my review here) led the discussion of “Sicily from Myth to Reality — A Unique World of Wine Tradition, Variety, Terroir.”

The focus was clear: drilling down into one region rather than highlighting the diversity among regions of a particular style and Nesto was the perfect guide for Sicily. His quick survey captured key elements of the geography, geology, history, economics, vineyards, wines and wine people. Bravo Bill!

But Batali’s Law appeared again in a difference context because if Italian wine is the wine of its regions, then Sicilian wine presents the same multi-local diversity.  What exactly is Sicilian wine? Nesto deftly showed us that it is many things not just one, in terms of grapes, styles and winemaking approaches. Some of the wines were links with history and others distinctive variations on an international style.

It was a study in contrasts, especially between the Portelli Riesco Cerasuolo di Vittorio DOCG 2012, made of equal parts of Nero D’Avola and Frappato, and the Quignone Petit Verdot IGT 2011. My favorite of these wines was probably the Pietracava di Comenico Ortoleva “Maanar” Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane IGT 2013.

A Fractal Image of Italian Wine?

I’m starting to think that Italian wine is really a fractal phenomenon. Fractal? That’s an image that retains its complicated properties at every possible scale.

Think of a stalk of romanesco broccoli, for example (see the image below). Imagine its shape. Now cut off a broccoli flower and look closely. Same characteristic  shape. Now take a piece of that and you will see the broccoli  design once again.

Italy is incredible diverse among the regions and, like my fractal broccoli, equally diverse within each region. Or at least that’s what I hope because that makes my terroirist soul happy. It’s that diversity that makes wine in general and Italian wine in particular really special.

If and when wine loses this characteristic (and it may have happened in some places), it becomes commodified, like industrial beer, and vulnerable to competition both from within the wine world and from more interesting products (craft beer? craft cider? innovative cocktails?) outside it, too. Cheers to Vino 2015 for celebrating Italy’s wines and reminding us of what makes them great.

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I am a big fan of DeLong’s wine maps, especially the wine map of Italy shown above.

Batali’s Law, the U.S. Wine Market & Vino 2015 Italian Wine Week

batali3Sue and I had a wonderful time at Vino 2015, the Italian Wine Week celebration in New York City. Besides speaking on the opening panel I was asked to write the Foreword for the conference program. The organizers have posted my essay on their blog. I will paste the first few paragraphs below. You can read the whole essay on the Vino 2015 website by clicking on this link. And here is a link to a story that emphasizes how my ideas about Brand Italy relate to Stevie Kim’s work at Vinitaly International. Enjoy!

BATALI’S LAW AND VINO 2015 ITALIAN WINE WEEK

North to Alaska: On the [Wine] Road for the World Affairs Council

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North to Alaska? No Ice Wine jokes, please!

I’m on the road this week, going north to Alaska to do programs for the World Affairs Council. I will be in Juneau  to talk about the global Wine Wars on February 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm at the KTOO studios. The talk is free and open to the public. I’d love to see all my Juneau friends there. I gave a talk about Globaloney there a few years ago and had a great time. 

Then it is north once more to Anchorage for a program for the Alaska World Affairs Council  It is a wine dinner event on February 12 with great food, interesting wines and some Extreme Wine stories to go with them.

The wine dinner is a fund-raiser for the World Affairs Council with tickets priced at $100 for AWAC members, $125 for non-members and $150 to sit at the VIP table with me.  I did a similar dinner in Seattle last year and it sold out and raised a lot of money for the World Affairs Council, so I have high hopes for Anchorage. I will also visit a high school in Anchorage to talk with the students about globalization and answer questions about global markets, globaloney, global wine and (wearing my professor hat) college studies.

I am a big fan of the work of local World Affairs Councils and have done several programs in the past for the groups in Seattle, Portland, Tacoma and Juneau. World Affairs Councils make that critical global-local connection, bringing global issues home and fostering international understanding. I’m proud to support their work in Alaska and across the country.

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Hope you enjoy the trailer from the 1960 film “North to Alaska.” I think my visit will be exciting, but in a different way from the film. Looking for that video I stumbled upon this. What do you think?

Cape Wine Auction Update: Groot Expectations for South Africa

capewineMy forthcoming book Money, Taste and Wine examines the tensions and trade-offs between and among the three things that make up the title — money, taste and wine — but the final chapter is a little different. It proposes that under the right circumstances money, taste and wine can come together to promote social change. The chapter is called “Groot Expectations” and it is set in South Africa.

Changing Times in South Africa – Wine Leads the Way

Once upon a time a concerned wine drinker might have avoided South African wine for ethical reasons — because of that country’s apartheid policies, which put a taint on all its many products. Now, the chapter argues, it is just the opposite — at least in the case of wine — because so many Cape Wineland producers are leveraging wine to promote equality and social progress.

The second annual AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction, which takes place on February 13 and 14, 2015 is a great “Groot Expectations” project. The auction has identified a worthy set of local non-profits to support including the Pebbles Project. The inaugural 2014 auction raised about seven million Rand (about $600,000) for charity and the 2015 event aims to exceed that amount by a good deal. The auction packages are fantastic — click here to view the catalogue of wines and experiences that are available. Definitely the sort of project that wine lovers should support.

Paddles Up! On-line  Bidding is Open

The last time I looked tickets for the live auctions were nearly sold out. The good news is that on-line bidding is available and, with the Rand at a favorable exchange rate for those of you holding U.S. dollars, it is possible to do good and do well at the same time.

The auction packages are simply amazing — the donors have been exceptionally generous and creative. Some of the lots include entire barrels of wine bottled in the winner’s choice of format, which reminds me of the historic Hospices de Beaune auction. Here are a few examples of the packages to whet your appetite and maybe provoke you to make a bid. I have groot expectations about this!

 The Warwick Estate ‘Trilogy’ Lot

  • A one-of-a-kind vertical collection of three five litre Jereboams of Warwick Trilogy including the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages.
  • Presented in a custom wooden presentation box, signed and personalised for the winning bidder.
  • An incredible summer party for 100 friends at Warwick Wine Estate.
  • All food supplied with catering by Warwick’s Chef.
  • All wines for the event chosen and supplied by The Ratcliffe family.

Wait. Does that say “party for 100 friends?” Yes it does! Hmmm. And the Delaire Graff Estate lot is pure luxury.

The Delaire Graff Estate Lot

  • A helicopter flight from Cape Town to the beautiful Banhoek Valley in Stellenbosch.
  • A two-night stay for two people in Delaire Graff’s Luxury Lodges.
  • A private art tour hosted by Lionel Smit.
  • A specially commissioned set of Lionel Smit prints.
  • A dining experience at Indochine.
  • A vertical wine tasting.
  • A gift set of Delaire Graff Botmaskop Magnums.
  • A seasonal spa escape per guest.

I like “The Godfather” lot because it honors Dr. Cluver. He’s one of my heroes for all the contributions he has made to South Africa and the world.

‘The Godfather’ Lot by Paul Cluver

  • A combination of gorgeous experiences and wine from the parents of two of Paul’s god children.
  • An exceptional collection of 60 bottles of Paul Cluver Pinot Noir blended by Andries Burger.
  • An amazing week-long stay at an 18th century Chateau in the Loire for eight people.

There is an international celebrity element in this one: Sir Richard Branson.

Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle Lot

  • Three nights at Sir Richard Branson’s new vineyard Mont Rochelle.
  • A three-course dinner for two at Miko.
  • A private wine tasting and cellar tour.
  • A gourmet tasting in the Country Kitchen.
  • A 60-minute Cape Malay Spice Journey Spa treatment for two.
  • Three nights at Ulusaba. All meals and drinks included. A private dinner.
  • A 90 minute La Stone full body massage for two.
  • Flights and transfers included.

And for those of you who love big, really big bottles …

The Swartland Revolution Lot – The Balthazar Collection.

  • An incredible collection from the Swartland Revolution pioneers.
  • A never before bottled 12 liter Balthazar from each of Porseleinberg, Sadie Family Wines, AA Badenhorst and Mullineux and Leeu Family wines.
  • Never to be repeated, it is hard to imagine more of a collectors item.

This is only a sampling of what’s on offer — check out the online catalog for the complete menu.

Be sure to call me when you are ready to pop the cork on your Balthazar! The Cape Wine Auction lets you do well and do good. You know what to do!

A Bottle of White? 30th Anniversary of Kevin Zraly’s Wine Course

Kevin Zraly, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 30th Anniversary Edition. Sterling Epicure, 2014

Pearls (traditional) or diamonds (modern practice) are the symbols associated with a 30th anniversary according to Hallmark and it would be easy to make a case for either as a suitable metaphor when it comes to the 30th anniversary of Kevin Zraly’s  wine guide.

The U.S. wine revolution is only about 50 years old. People like Kevin Zraly and books like this one took a budding wine culture and helped nurse it into full bloom.  The publication of this 30th anniversary edition of Zraly’s book is cause for celebration and, like a wedding anniversary,both  looking back and pondering the future.

The Commanding Heights

So it is both appropriate and  interesting that Zraly writes here about his personal journey through wine and about the famous Windows on the World restaurant (and wine school).  The restaurant and school were perched high atop the World Trade Center in New York City and from those commanding heights Zraly directed an ambitious wine education initiatuve until that fateful day — September 11, 2001 — when the building (but not the program) came crashing down.

Sue and I had the pleasure to dine at Windows on the World just once — in the company of her parents, Mike and Gert. I can remember everything about the view (the Statue of Liberty seemed like a toy down in harbor below us) and the company, but alas nothing in particular about the food. I’m pretty sure that the wine we drank was a relatively modest cru Beaujolais — a choice that Zraly (who probably put the wine on the list) would approve according to his restaurant wine advice here.

A Bottle of White? A Bottle of Red? 

Zraly has been an enormously successful wine educator. His approach as outlined in the book works so well because  he basically asks the student/reader to engage with wine as one would in a restaurant — doesn’t that make sense? Where many wine guides jump into geography, geology, variety and so forth in encyclopedic detail, Zraly more or less begins with the question, “A bottle of white? A bottle of red?” as you would in a restaurant.

So this is wine list 101 — simple, clear and useful — that empowers the reader through its easy approach but also provides enough depth and detail to draw her in. White wines come first as they often  do on the wine menu, with chapters on France, the U.S. and Germany. Then red wines: Burgundy and the Rhone, Bordeaux and California. Spain and Italy share a chapter as do Champagne, Sherry and Port. If Zraly was based in San Francisco instead of New York the Old World – New World order might be different, but I’m sure the basic approach would stay the same.

Finally we have the rest of Zraly’s world with a chapter than roams Austria, Hungary, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina. Obviously breadth takes precedence over depth here and in the book generally, but its a big wine world and Zraly has fewer than 400 pages to work with. This will frustrate the seasoned enthusiast looking for esoteric information, but if it does then maybe this book isn’t for you. And in any case, I found something to learn in each chapter when I drilled down. A final chapter looks at food and wine pairings and provides lists of best wines and best values under $30.

I applaud Zraly’s decision to look beyond the usual suspects in the U.S. wine industry, although I wish he’d go into more detail, especially about Washington and Oregon where I spend a good deal of my time. His discussion of California is detailed, as befits the largest producing state, followed by basic information about Washington, Oregon, New York, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois (sorry Idaho — maybe next time). Zraly played an indirect role in the spread of wine producton from coast to coast — good to honor that contribution here.

Sometimes More (Zraly) is More

Criticisms? There is a lot of interesting data here, but I couldn’t find  many sources, which was frustrating since some of the statistics are (inevitably) out of date . Ernie Loosen will be surprised to learn that he has “recently” entered into a partnership with Chateau Ste Michelle to make Eroica Riesling wine in Washingtong State, for example. The relationship goes back to 1999.

And as with the last edition I am disappointed with the “digital” elements. QR codes send you to web pages with very brief videos of Zraly in action, pronunciation guides and to an on-line store where you can purchase wines.

Zraly’s videos show why he has been such an influential teacher, but at about 2 minutes each they are too short to add very much. One video was mainly devoted to showing a chart that was printed on the page where the QR code was found, which seemed redundant to me. I think the videos are a good idea, but if Zraly is going to do them there needs to be more time and effort invested. My suggestion: instead of overviews why not pick a topic in the book and drill down in the video, taking full advantage of the opportunity of live action? Use the videos to add to the book in ways that text and tables cannot.

But these are small matters in the bigger context and not things that you want to dwell on when making a 30th anniversary toast (Champagne is best for this, we are advised, and I won’t argue even though I’m on a Prosecco kick these days). So cheers to Zraly and the book he has used to help guide us all these years. I hope both man and book enjoy many more years (and editions) and that the wine culture they have helped create will continue to bloom extravagantly.

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A bottle of white? A bottle of red? Sorry, I couldn’t resist a Billy Joel video. Cheers!

Vino 2105: Perspectives on the Italian Wine Renaissance in the U.S. Market

vino2015

Wine Economist readers who fall into the “trade and media” category should set their map-app coordinates for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City during the first week in February because that’s where Vino 2015 will happen. This celebration of the wines of Italy is being billed as the “grandest Italian wine event ever held outside of Italy!” Do I have your attention now?

Vino Italiano Renaissance

Italy is the number one source of imported wines in the U.S. market and sales are on the rise. I would call it an Italian Wine Renaissance except that many would counter that Italian wines have no need to be reborn in the U.S. — they have long been popular here. Still there is something to the Renaissance metaphor, starting with Prosecco, which I wrote about in 2014, and continuing up and down the boot-shaped peninsula.

Prosecco’s popularity has invigorated the whole sparkling wine category in the U.S. and is part of a growing interest in Italy beyond the usual suspects. There is much more to Italian wine than the famous names and best-selling styles and varieties, as important as they are, and Vino 2015 is coming to New York to tell that story.

I’ll be there to speak at about Italian wines in a rapidly changing U.S. market. Here’s the description of my session. Click on this link to see the entire agenda.

Trends in the World’s Largest Wine Market : US’s Growing Global Relevance

In 2013, the United States  became the world largest wine market, in terms of absolute consumption. Despite economic headwinds, the market grew again in 2014, and is expected to add to these gains in 2015. What segments of the U.S. market are doing especially well—even outperforming? What opportunities lie ahead for Italian wines in the U.S.? This is the ideal discussion with which to kick off Vino 2015.

Moderator:

  • Anthony Dias Blue, Editor-in-Chief, The Tasting Panel & The Sommelier Journal

Panelists:

  • Jon Fredrikson – Gomberg Fredrikson and Associates

  • Cristina Mariani-May –  Co-CEO, Banfi Vintners

  • Angelina Mondavi – Partner & Winemaker, Dark Matter Wines

  • Mike Veseth – Wine Economist and University of Puget Sound

Piazza Conversations

I was asked to write the Foreword to the printed program, which gave me an excuse to think about how the many parts of the event come together and what the trade and media attendees might take away from it all. There’s a lot to consider!

Start with the Grand Tasting “Italian Wine Exchange,” featuring over 200 Italian wineries. This, as the name suggests, is a traditional arena for tasting the wine, making contacts, doing deals, renewing relationships, seeing and being seen.

Trade tastings like this always remind me of when we lived in Bologna and would hang out at the Piazza Maggiore just a few steps from our apartment. Everyone came to the Piazza, or so it seemed, and you never knew what new opportunity would present itself through a mixture of purposeful design and simple fortune.

An ambitious series of seminars explores several broad themes. Wine business and economics comes first — the characteristics and dynamics of the U.S. market for Italian wine with its shifting demographics, and the state of the wine industry in Italy. The second theme examines the Italian South — Puglia, Sicily, Calabria and Campania. Italy is too big and diverse in terms of wine to focus on everything, so shining a spotlight on the South — as big and diverse as it is by itself — is a great strategy.

Other seminars take a compare and contrast approach to Italian sparkling wines and to rosés from different regions.  A final set of programs looks beyond wine to food (of course!), music and culture,  global climate change, Italian craft beers and more. As I explain in my Foreword, I think the formal program parts tie together very well. Lots to share, learn and discuss.

And of course that’s what is going to happen in the hallways, lunches, bars, cafes and so forth when everyone gathers to socialize, do a little business and talk about Italian wine. Just like the Piazza Maggiore!

Creative Tension

Years ago I wrote an essay about the economy of Renaissance Italy that was titled “The Creative Economy” and one element of creativity is tension. I will be interested to see how the many tensions in the wine market are addressed at Vino 2015. What kinds of tension? Some of the typical ones, I suppose. Old and new. Modern and traditional. Local and global. North and South (because this is Italy and regional identities are always important).

Add to the list particular tensions in the dynamic U.S. market. The strategies that have been successful for Italian wines in the past may not be the best plans for the future as new demographic groups become the focus of attention and as new parts of the country are targeted for growth. Add new competitors to the mix — new wine regions, new craft beers, spirits and cider rivals — and the situation becomes more complicated.

This tension between stability and change that was at the heart of the Creative Economy 500 years ago is central to the wine market today. I’m interested to see what my creative  Italian friends will do with it! Italian wine Renaissance? You be the judge. Ciao, everyone. See you in New York.

Wine Economist Short-Listed for Gourmand Blog Award

Just a quick note to tell you that The Wine Economist has been short-listed for a global blog award. The Gourmand International “Best in the World” awards will be announced on June 8 in Yantai, China.

I’ll copy the short list of blogs, magazines and “books of the year” (one finalist per country) in the “wine and drinks.” category. The Wine Economist is in good company, don’t you think? It’s an honor just to be nominated for this award and a double honor to make the list of finalists!

Thanks to Gourmand International for this recognition (and thanks to whoever nominated The Wine Economist for this award!).

Best Wine and Drinks Blog:

  • France- Cite des Civilisations du Vin
  • Singapore – The Wine Review, Ch’ng Poh Tiong
  • USA- The Wine Economist, Mike Veseth

Best Wine and Drinks Magazine:

  • Brazil- Vinho magazine
  • China- China Wine News
  • Iceland- Vinbladid
  • South Africa- Wine Mag
  • USA- Quarterly Review of Wine

Best Wine and Drinks Book of the Year

  • Australia- Barossa Shiraz, Thomas Girgensohn, ( Wakefield Press )
  • Brazil- Cachaca e Gastronomia 2014, Felipe Januzzi, Gabriela Bareto ( Mapa da Cachaca, Ministerio de Cultura- Destemperados )
  • France – Bordeaux et ses Vins 1814 – 2014 ( Feret)
  • Italy- Accidenti, malatti e parassite della vite ( Edizioni SUV )
  • Mexico – Bebiendo nuestra tierra, el vino mexicano, Pablo M.Aldrete,Maria Palau, Memo Garcia (MG )
  • Sweden- Whiskyns Landscap, Claes Grunsten ( Max Strom )
  • Switzerland- Vins Swiss Wines ( Vinea )
  • USA- The best white wine in the world, the Riesling, Stuart Piggott ( Stewart ,Tabori, Chang )
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