Vineyards in Campania
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
An open letter to Matt Kramer at The Wine Spectator:
I just read your online post "Are You Afraid of Italian Wines?" at winespectator.com and frankly, I'm disappointed you would write such a column. You are one of the most engaging and intelligent wine writers in the country, so I don't quite understand why you wrote what you did. Was it a slow news week for you?
You mention that at a a restaurant you ordered a Pecorino Colline Pescaresi from Tiberio, while admitting that you hadn't heard of the Pecorino grape, the Colline Pescaresi zone or the producer Tiberio. Let's look at your claims. I can appreciate the fact that you weren't familiar with the Pecorino grape, as it's planted in small numbers primarily in Abruzzo and Marche. Ok, Chardonnay it's not. But you admit to enjoying the wine, calling it "dazzling stuff." Pretty nice compliment, so I'm thinking you're glad you tried this bottling. It's a nice thing when you discover something new, isn't it?
As for not being familiar with the Colline Pescaresi district, alright, join the club. It's a small district in Abruzzo, named for the Pescara province. You apparently have a problem with this designation simply because it's not a household name. Yet how many wine drinkers know where the Ben Lomond or High Valley AVAs are located in California? Should wineries in these areas not use these terms simply because they're not as famous as Napa or Sonoma?
As for not knowing Tiberio, so what? You must realize that there are thousands of artisan producers from Italy whose wines are imported into the United States. You said that you loved the wine, so now you know Tiberio and now you know about the Pecorino grape. And the next time you see a Pecorino from Colline Pescaresi, I'll bet you'll think about ordering it.
Two major things here. Yes, there are hundreds of varieties used in Italy that are seen nowhere else in the world. Thank goodness for that! Do you really want a world where we drink wines made from the same 10 or 12 varieties? I would hope not! If you don't know the variety, you can always ask your server, sommelier or manager at the restaurant. If they have decided to carry particular wines - obscure or not - you would hope they would have learned about these offerings and would have trained their staff. If that's a problem, write about that, but don't write about the fact that you never heard of the Pecorino or Biancolella grape (as you did with another wine).
Are Italian wines confusing? To some degree, yes. For some people, the names are too long and as they don't want to stumble over the pronunciation or order something they're not familiar with, they stick to the tried and true such as Pinot Grigio and Chianti. How unexciting is that? Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry will always be the best-selling flavors of ice cream, but isn't it great that you can also order pistachio almond or nutty coconut at Baskin-Robbins? Thank goodness that A-16 in San Francisco as well as hundreds of Italian restaurants in New York City, Chicago, Houston, Miami and other cities offer such a wide variety of Italian wines.
Back to my question about Italian wines being confusing. There are hundreds of tiny DOC areas that few people know about; frankly people want to know how a wine will taste and what grapes are used. Education of Italian wines in this country has not been given the same emphasis that wines from France and California have enjoyed. But does that mean the Italians have to dumb things down? How did you want Tiberio to label its Pecorino Colline Pescaresi? As Bianco d'Abruzzo? That might have been easier for you and others to understand, but what would that have told you, except for the fact that it's a white wine from Abruzzo? The best wines the world over come from specific varieties and places. I think we all learn a great deal more when we are given more information to process. You may label it as confusing, but I prefer to think of it as valuable data.
So Matt, please help your readers understand more about Italian wines. I realize that in an off-handed way, you did just that with this column, as you sang the praises of an excellent Pecorino and Biancolella. But as a respected wine writer, you should do more than complain. Write about the glories of these singular wines from the Italian peninsula. Your readers will thank you for it, believe me! If you'd like, please also pay a visit to my blog Learn Italian Wines. I think you'll enjoy it - and you might even learn a few things!
By the way, I think I'll enjoy a La Sibilla Falanghina Campi Flegrei tonight. It's a gorgeous white wine made from the Falanghina variety in the Campi Flegrei district, located a little ways out of Napoli; La Sibilla is one of the area's finest producers. But I'm guessing you already knew that!