Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Pleasure of Tradition - Piemontese Style

I enjoyed lunch at Francesca’s on the north side of Chicago with my friend and fellow Italian wine lover Jeremy McMahon the other day. Jeremy’s only been in the wine business for a few years, but he’s already accomplished something I haven’t – he’s worked a harvest in Piemonte. How I envy him for that!

We talked about his experience over lunch. He worked for Paolo Sarocco for the Moscato harvest in Castiglione Tinella and after finishing that, Sarocco told him about a fine Barbaresco producer by the name of Pasquale Pelissero (also known as Cascina Crosa), located in the town of Neive. Jeremy went to work there and by the way he told his story, I could tell that he loved his time in the vineyards (especially tasting the ripe grapes) and was grateful for the kindness of the local vintners.

He brought a bottle of the 2005 Barbaresco “Bricco San Giuliano” from Pasquale Pelissero and it accompanied our lunch like it was meant specifically for our spinach and pastas. This is a textbook example of this wine; my notes describe the currant and persimmon aromas, rich concentration, subdued oak, lively acidity and graceful finish.

We both loved the wine for numerous reasons, most specifically because it was an elegant accompaniment to our food. There was clearly no thought on the part of the winemaker to fashion a “big” wine that would be awarded high scores in a wine magazine. Rather the winemaking here was respectful of the fact that whoever tried this wine would enjoy it with food.

This is a classic concept in Piemonte and throughout most of Italy that is not always respected these days. Too many estates (usually in other regions farther south than Piemonte) are pushing the ripeness of their grapes and crafting modern, forward, overblown wines meant to impress certain influential wine publications. As my friend Jeremy Parzen wrote to me in a recent email, “these producers have sold their soul for a score.”

There’s been plenty written about this trend by Jeremy, Franco Ziliani, Alfonso Cevola and many other wine journalists who respect tradition and terroir in Italian wines. There’s no need for me to add that much more except to say that we need to keep reminding consumers that there are differences between wines that overwhelm you (the wow factor) and the ones that try to delight you. Tradition in Italian wines is all about the simple pleasure of pairing a wine with the local foods. How nice that the people associated with Pasquale Pelissero as well as hundreds of other Piemontese producers understand that!


  1. I like delight...not much into wow...great post

  2. Alfonso:

    A great post? Wow on my end! Thanks!

  3. This is indeed a great post.

    And I pose a question: is there such a thing as a wine that wasn't intended to go with food?

    No, there isn't. Any winemaker who doesn't think of food when s/he makes wine is making cocktails!

    Keep it coming, Tom!

  4. Jeremy:

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Regarding your question - in the absolute sense, there probably is no wine that doesn't go with some sort of food. But in the real world, what foods go with an overblown, super ripe, inky red wine with loads of oak and moderate acidity? Leg of elk, perhaps?