There has been a shift in wine education, really in all education, and learning. The internet has given us access to all information, it’s all out there, right at our fingertips. Previously a wine student would have to wait for a wine book to come along or cross their fingers that some worthwhile article was published. The current world is filled with a constant diffusion of new books and blogs, let alone the access to everything written beforehand.
My wine learning process came from many sources: Youtube, Netflix dvds (back when we still did that), and yes, of course, tasting and talking to people! Two platforms really propelled me to not just know the basics, but to also know the “who’s who” of winemakers and brands. Podcasts like Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink to That, would inform me but also sometimes require me to pause and look up xyz region. The most formative and democratic platform for me has been Instagram. I woke up to it, and fell asleep to it. It has led to cherished friendships in the real world and also created a sense of community with like-minded enthusiasts across the globe.
Fast forward to my move to Italy. I came with the intention of having access to the wines I had only dreamed of getting to. Access created by availability or cost reduction. I quickly became dismayed that the Vermouth culture I created for my customers in Boston had seemingly long been extinct in Italy. Regardless it was never really strong in Emilia-Romagna anyways.
Then, via Instagram, the most ironically frustrating situation occurred. I would see Somms getting excited for wines that I seemingly did not have access to. Italian, Emilian, and heck Lambrusco! How are Japanese and Danish Somms pouring a wine and I have simply never seen in any shop in the region it is coming from? After time, finding said boutique natural producer revealed themselves slowly, much in the same way if someone in Boston may have a hard time finding Trillium Beer at first search.
In this case I was searching for Graziano. I first tried the Ripa di Sopravento, a cloudy Ancestral Method white blend. Then I saw it in the window display of Antica Trattoria Spiga in Bologna. I made a reservation basically for this wine. We got the Lambrusco and had it with Maccheroncini al Torchio con sugo di Castrato, an amazing pasta dish made with castrated ram. We also got beef tongue. If you are in Bologna and want to try traditional dishes that are seemingly unmarketable, this is a place.
The wine was quite unique in that it was definitely natural, and bottle fermented in the bottle conditioned Ancestrale style but it still had the light fruitiness typical of Modenese Lambrusco. I sometimes think what unites the better natural wines is an immediate accessibility by a non wine-aficionado; nothing to explain about why it is this way or not, it just is universally pleasing.
Later, in August 2016, I went with a friend to a Parmigiano-Reggiano manufacturing facility in Modena. I had been working on a Bologna region Wine & Food map. Since we were already in the Modena area, the topic came up of where else can we stop by while we are here. I looked and saw we were pretty close to the Graziano winery. We called and the phone number was non-existent. We went anyways to the address with time to kill. No sign, overgrown grass and weeds, plastic on some of the windows. The friend I was with said the place looked abandoned, but having seen the untrimmed landscape on google maps I knew it was sort of the right place. If you are not actually using round up, then weeds should be growing.
As we got out of the car I realized I was truly American when I asked my Italian friend if there is a chance this winemaker has a shotgun and will use it on us if we are on his property.
After politely yelling to make our presence known, Vittorio came out and greeted us with a watchful look. We explained who we were and before I could realize it, I am trailing him in the vineyard as he shows me rare vines he has salvaged from throughout the Modenese Lambrusco region. Some of the vines he has names for, some the names are debated or have multiples, and some do not have any names at all! He showed us an antebellum wine list from Modena that had something like 40 different varieties of grapes for sale. He spoke of how the industrialization, the cooperatives, and the modernizing of the agriculture pushed forth for a vigorous monoculture. He has fought back, not just maintaining his own, but replanting vines that are white, red and some that literally have mixed berries on the bunch. Some vines produce very little, another one only produces grapes after growing really long. Are these wild crossings or semi-extinct classics of the region?
He explained that it was not just monoculture that has devastated the Modenese wine landscape but the scourge of the Charmat system. The Charmat creates bubbles that do not carry the true wine, it creates a soda, just injecting the wine with bubbles but not carrying its life, leaving it frizzy, yes, but without character.
I got to taste his Rosato as well, Lo Smilzo. He scoffed at how rose is just for the summer, a sentiment I couldn’t tell if he was saying as winemakers tend to speak about their own perceived less serious wines or a true sentiment that still permeates with many Italian men. He also has a still red I did not get to try. He told me not to swish around my glass since it would lose its aroma. Since, with bottle fermented bubbles, the effervescence carries the wine.
He has some Grappa made by Marolo. Interestingly he does not seem to care for Petillant naturel wines not from the typical regions that did it. They do not work, they are faddish wines with no connection to tradition and territory.
Via Lunga, 7b, 41014 Castelvetro di Modena MO
Antica Trattoria Spiga
Via Broccaindosso, 21, 40125 Bologna
*With that said I have found an enormous array of wine literature in libraries.