I believe the flavor and taste of wine is paramount. After that, a wine can be raised by the story behind it. I am not speaking about the whimsical animal labels or unrelated stories that some producers manufacture to market their wines. I’m talking about the producers and places that make the wines what they are. Depending on the type, the story behind the wine can be as interesting as the flavor.
I remember the very first book I bought on wine. It was Victor Hazan’s classic Italian Wine published in 1982. I didn’t know much about wine at that point. I quickly became fascinated. Hazan’s book brought life to the liquid. Before reading Italian Wine, I was pouring wine into the glasses of the diners at an Italian restaurant. I did not know the story behind the wine. The book overflowed with more than the taste. It spoke of the style, favor, history, culture, geography, language, production methods, grapes, food pairings and more. I did not feel overwhelmed by this book like many of later wine encyclopedias. I read it cover to cover. I was quickly able to tell guests a bit about the esoteric selections on the all-Italian wine list. This book and the passionate gentlemen I worked for were able to put color to the difficult Italian names I was seeing on the labels. I know now that it was these stories, the ones I would learn from others and by traveling to the wine regions that made it so interesting. It became easier to learn and talk about wine.
Here is the story behind the wine for those that possess a unique story:
The story behind the wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano
The wine comes from the village of San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy. The area is noted for its many medieval tower houses. A family’s wealth was demonstrated by the height of their home’s tower. Many still stand today. Vernaccia di San Gimignano was Italy’s first wine to achieve the top classification of DOCG (“Controlled designation of origin”). Michelangelo was an early aficionado of the wine. He is quoted saying that Vernaccia di San Gimignano “kisses, licks, bites and stings you.” This conjures a wide range of interpretations on what the master may have meant.
Recommended producers: Fontaleoni, Teruzzi & Puthod and Falchini.
The story behind the wine: Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio
The name means “Tears of Christ.” It is made red or white. The story goes that when Lucifer was expelled from heaven, he took a piece with him and dropped it into the Bay of Naples on the coast of Campania. When Christ saw this, he cried. Where his tears dropped, the vines of Vesuvio sprang up. The white wine comes from a blend of indigenous white grapes: Coda di Volpe, Verdeca, Falanghina and Greco. The red wines are made from a blend of indigenous red grapes: Piedirosso and Aglianico.
Recommended producers: Mastroberardino, Terredora di Paolo and Feudi di San Gregorio.
The story behind the wine Châteauneuf-du-Pape
In 1308 when Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papacy to the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone of France, he took up his summer residence in an area 20 kilometers north of Avignon. It is now called Châteauneufdu-Pape. Wine from the region was kept in regular supply at the papal residence. It became known as Vin du Pape. John XXII, who succeeded Clement V, erected the famous castle that serves as a symbol for the appellation. Still standing today in ruin, it is known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That roughly translates to “the Pope’s new castle.” Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine is made in both white and red versions. The red wines are made with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre. The whites are made with Grenache, Blanc Clairette, Roussane, Bourboulenc and Picpoul.
Recommended producers: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Le Vieux Donjon and Château de Beaucastel.
The story behind the wine Amarone
Grapes are harvested ripe and then dried for around three months in special lofts called fruttai. The lofts have been modernized and are equipped with ventilators and de-humidifers. This discourages mold and other issues when drying the grapes. During the drying period, which is from roughly October to February, the grapes lose 35 percent to 40 percent of their original weight. That concentrates the sugar and extracts and decreases the amount of water in the wine. The resulting grapes ferment to dryness and achieve alcohol levels of 14 percent to 16 percent. This process, called passito, adds to the expense. It also contributes a unique taste impression or illusion of sweetness. That is thanks to the big concentration of alcohol and glycerin. Amarone is made in the region of Veneto in Italy from a blend of grapes. The most important is Corvina.
Recommended producers: Masi, Farina and Luigi Righetti.