I did not want to limit these entries to Italian wine, but news keeps leaking out of the boot that demands attention. No more information on the scandal in Brunello as of this writing, no, more of a tempest in a teapot concerning the venerable Valpolicella producer Allegrini and the use of screw caps.
Screw caps? Haven't we moved beyond that already with both high and low end wines bottled under screw cap pouring onto the shelves of our local retailers. (Quick aside, I was opening wine that had been wrapped for a blind tasting and I was having a devil of a time getting the cork screw into a particular bottle until I finally broke through and discovered it was a screw cap.) There may still be talk in certain circles about the acceptance of this closure but by and large the future has been writ.
Just not by the Italians; after years of tweaking their wine laws to accommodate "innovative" wine making techniques while protecting traditional wines the Italians find themselves behind the times. Valpolicella Classico has a series of rules attached to it and one of those rules is you must finish the bottle with cork. Here is a quote from Mr. Allegrini himself from the Decanter article linked to above:
'We have been waiting for the regulations in Valpolicella Classico to be amended so that we could use screw caps on this wine,' said winemaker Franco Allegrini. 'But they haven't, so we have decided to pull out of Classico. The closure is more important to us than the denomination'
So, is Allegrini striking a blow for the innovative use of alternative closures against the staid and out of it government and conservative consorzio members as this article makes it appear and the quote backs up? Hmm, here is how I re-imagine the quote:
'We could label our wines using the Valpolicella DOC and stopper the bottles with handkerchiefs and wax if we like, but that would mean we would not get any press play or appear to be taking a stand for the injustice wrought by these admittedly not too restrictive laws. Allegrini wines are available at a retailer near you.'
The point here, illustrated by this one example, is that so much of what passes for 'news' or 'knowledge' in the wine industry is free flowing marketing-speak. Some of this information is valid and useful but only if you read and digest it with a grain of salt and view it through a prism of slight skepticism. I am not suggesting that a wine consumer need be a tough as nails cynic - cue Mary Astor walking into Humphrey Bogart's office to sell him a case of wine - but it pay to have a full understanding of what the playing field looks like and it is big a lucrative. Websites like Snooth go a long way to helping one navigate with eyes wide open but it is still up to each individual to avoid swallowing too much hype that will eventually dilute the wine we are trying so hard to enjoy.
Parting bit - my friend Scott gave me some advice on writing blog entries; he said either read everything that is out there or nothing at all. I chose the latter path but I must admit that it is hard to ignore the entire oeuvre of fine writing available at a mere click. To that end, I peaked at one of Eric Asimov’s recent blog entries on quality and critics, and without leaking my feelings, I heartily recommend the read.
Robert Scibelli is a lecturer and administrator at New York’s premier wine school, International Wine Center .
Render unto Caesar...
- Reply by Philip James, Apr 16, 2008.
I'm chuckling at Scott's advice. Such seemingly weighty advice often has no practical utility, but kudos to him for distilling his advice to you to 1 sentence! Your comment on Allegrini is very thought provoking - I'm of the personal opinion that EVERYTHING a company does in the public eye should be viewed as marketing/ad related, there may be exceptions, but I'm a skeptic and probably mis-construe them anyway. A very interesting post, thank you.
- Reply by Mark Angelillo, Apr 16, 2008.
Wine laws all over the world continuing to hold progress in check! Where's the shackled grape picture when you need it?
- Reply by Chris Carpita, Apr 16, 2008.
@Philip: One exception is the stuff we write here. It's very much in the public eye, but we're really just putting on our "people" hats rather than our "marketing" hats.
@Robert: Excellent post. This sounds like a very natural defensive maneuver to offset the loss of the denomination. They are making it very public that the closure is the only thing keeping them out, to avoid being viewed as unworthy to bear the name. I don't think there is any evidence that you provided that Allegrini was "pretending" to support the cause; it seemed like they were just waiting and got fed up with regulations.