Italian history and myth in a wineglass – Live from Vinitaly 2024

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Halfway through the first day of Vinitaly 2024, Professor Attilio Scienza and Marc Millon IWA presented Vinitaly International Academy Advanced Seminar “Italian history and myth in a wine glass”. Here are some considerations.

The concept for this masterclass was a mash-up of Italian and English, to showcase Scienza’s wealth and depth of research into the methods of connecting territory to product to story surrounding Italy’s native grapes, and Millon’s newly published book, Italy in a Wineglass, which was hot off the press merely weeks before Vinitaly. Stevie Kim introduced them and explained that “Both Marc and Scienza are storytellers in different ways.” Vinitaly International Academy is proud to benefit from Scienza’s years of research and generosity of spirit in his availability to the students, the projects and the books. Millon is a VIA Ambassador, having passed the challenging exam that has certified over 360 Italian Wine Ambassadors across 46 countries since its inception in 2015. The 28th edition of VIA was held in Verona the week before Vinitaly.

Scienza kicked off the session for the room packed full of his loyal fans and VIA Italian Wine Ambassadors. He set the stage by remarking, “Myth is the foundation of history, it adds spirit and atmosphere to the history of people, culture, country and wine.”  He explained that the word ‘autochthonous’ is working against us in our understanding of Italian grapes, as the vast majority of them arrived in Italy from faraway lands, brought by travellers and voyagers over time. The session aimed to show how the grapes used to produce the individual wines have left a trail of their journey to Italy that is visible through well-known legends and myths.

Beginning with Franciacorta, the Berlucchi Brut 61 we tasted was made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The region, in the northeast of Lombardy, is characterised by the morainic soils deposited by the glaciers as they moved from north to south, and Lake Iseo which was created as the glaciers melted. The grapes also travelled from north to south throughout the region. Benefitting from the meaning of the word ‘Franciacorta,’ which referred to the tax-free politics that existed there in the Middle Ages, these grapes found their best expression in Italy in this cool northerly region, having been brought to the area by the French.

Taking a look at Grillo next, the story took us to the northwest tip of Sicily, just across the water from Marsala, where the sea forms a lagoon called Stagnone, embracing the island of San Pantaleo where the Phoenicians based their famous colony called Motya, or Mozia as it is now known. In ancient times, Mozia was an obligatory transit point for trade routes and thrived due to commerce. It is mentioned in the myth of Atlantis and associated with the pillars of Hercules. The Grillo di Mozia from Tasca d’Almerita showed the gorgeous saline quality that Italian seaside grapes often display, with a tangy acidity and a flinty, phenolic quality, with notes of fresh green herbs, delicate yellow broom flowers, lemongrass, a touch of anise and a spicy hit of white pepper.

The third wine took us back north to Veneto, a region rich in natural, artistic and cultural resources. Scienza reminded us that the town of Rivoli Veronese was the “land of forts,” and was always celebrated in military history as a formidable obstacle.  These days, in the renowned Valpolicella denomination, Corvina reigns supreme as the red grape on which most of the red wines of the area are based. Instead of looking at an Amarone or a Valpolicella Classico, Millon chose to present Fresco di Masi Rosso, from the historic winery Masi. This wine represented Millon’s concept of the creation and recreation of myth and the ‘Made in Italy’ narrative.  The wine is a blend of Corvina and Merlot, a native local grape and an international grape, showing what Millon described as “the offering of wine as a symbol of hospitality and ancient Greek culture,” as well as the innovation in modern Veneto winemaking which has created this organic, fresh, light-bodied wine aimed at a younger generation of wine drinkers. The bright, electric, transparent, almost neon quality of the ruby red wine heralded the inevitable cherry flavors from this region, with a hint of pomegranate and red currant.  Millon commented, “the wine is a return to origins, with low intervention, made in a simple way as in the past, but with the quality and clean fresh fruit we expect today.” No use of oak and no drying of the grapes gave the wine a natural feel with an authenticity of the grapes’ flavors.

The final wine was another northerner, an ice wine from the Valle d’Aosta, in Italy’s far northwest corner, high in the Alps.  Scienza pointed to the religious pilgrimage routes that traversed the mountains in this region and spoke about the need for agriculture along the routes to sustain the pilgrims heading to Rome and back again. The high altitude and poor soils would not support most food crops, but Prie Blanc grapes found the perfect home here.  Unaffected by the phylloxera scourge of the late 1880s and early 1900s, the grape flourished in the mountain atmosphere.  Ice wine is less and less produced, due to climate change effects which have limited the ability of healthy ripe grapes to be frozen on the vine.  The wine was Vin de Glace “Chaudelune” from Cave Mont Blanc de Morgex e de la Salle, a pure expression of the grape, surprisingly acidic and sweet, with seductive notes of apricot, chamomile tea, wet stones, honey, apple and dried green herbs. Refined, elegant, complex and delicious, this was a wonderful treat after a fascinating session presented in “Ita-nglish” by two great raconteurs.

 

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