Quite soon after we first arrived in Abruzzo in 2007, to keep my hand in at writing and give me something to do while Villasfor2 was being built, I began a weekly series of Italian wine blogs called ‘David’s Everyday Italian Wine.’
The only critical yardstick was that the maximum bottle price allowable was €5, and it says something for the vast choice and good value of Italian wine that I notched-up over 50 of these essays, until turning them out every week became a little too much like work, and a little too time-consuming.
So ‘David’s Special Italian Wine’ appeared, with the purchase ceiling now ratchetted-up to a heady €10 and the winy words of wisdom appearing on a more laid-back monthly basis.
If ‘David’s Everyday Italian Wine’ showed me just how much thoroughly good wine, (and how little really awful stuff), there was in the lower price bracket, ‘David’s Special Italian Wine’ proved that for just one crisp €10 note, you really could drink incredibly well.
And so pleased and delighted was I at this discovery that another 50 or so bottles of wine gurgled past before this incarnation too ran its course.
And as David’s Everyday Italian Wine begat David’s Special Italian Wine, so that in turn morphed into the video blog series ‘Italy Vino’.
When I’d left the BBC, I exchanged the (very nice) leaving present I’d been given for an even nicer (and then state-of-the-art) digital DVD camera. And I’d never really used it that much.
And though I truly didn’t for a nano-second miss being a studio-based television presenter, making films for fun – as opposed to for work – was a nice indulgent change.
Plus, making a video was so much quicker than a blog, which took a couple of hours or so to write and then hammer the words and pictures into some sort of coherent shape.
Because I could stick the videocam on a tripod and reel-off a wine vid in a single, one-take, piece-to-camera lasting about 10 minutes, even then allowing for sticking on the opening titles and closing credits, thanks to iMovie I could have everything done/dusted/ in well under half an hour.
True, there were a few little pre-production problems that had to be sorted.
Because I didn’t have any lights, I couldn’t film indoors, so out-of-doors it had to be. Not too much of a hardship in an Abruzzo summer, but a bit of a challenge in winter.
Then there was the choice of backdrop. If I’d always used the same one, the series would’ve got very boring, very quickly.
You’d think – given we have an acre of land and stunning views – this wouldn’t have been a problem, but our acre of land is more accurately described as an acre of hillside, and flat bits to put the camera and stand in front of it are at a premium.
And the flat bits also had to be as far as possible away from the prying eyes of passing tractor-drivers. Not that I minded especially being gawped at, but a tractor grinding slowly uphill pulling a load of something is a hard act to talk over.
But even worse was that those on-board would see what I was doing and Italians being Italians, would invariably stop to watch. (While keeping the engine running, natch.)
“What’s he doing ?” one would ask another. “Why’s he standing behind a table with some bottles of wine ? Why’s he talking to himself ?”
“OH LOOK – THERE’S A CAMERA !”
And they’d toss this back and forth until they got bored and crashed the gears back into place to move off, while I maintained earnest eye-contact with the lens and waxed lyrical about fruit and body.
Mostly I just gave up until they’d gone and then started again.
But even if the weather was perfect; the land flat; the tractors absent; the wine interesting; and me lucid, you still couldn’t legislate against Sweetie the Cat wandering into shot behind you; taking a leisurely dump in a flower-bed; and then very carefully and conscientiously covering it all up before exiting stage left.
Something I didn’t discover until far too late, when putting that particular vid together.
And no, I won’t tell you which one it was. Think they’re all still on YouTube somewhere. Go find…
I made over 30 of these wine vids and then took up an offer to write a regular wine column for the excellent Italy Chronicles online news-sheet. But enjoyable as this was in reaching and engaging with a far bigger audience than I’d ever done via the Villasfor2 site, there was the basic underlying realisation that one way and another, I’d tasted and reviewed pretty well every Italian wine there was to be tasted and reviewed – and short of going back to the beginning and starting all over again, there wasn’t much left to say.
So I stopped.
The only regret I had was that I never got the chance to review any of the stupendously good – and stupendously priced – wines that Italy offers. The Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Valpolicella Amarone I got to taste were all strictly entry-level.
Which is because aside from at the very end, when Italy Chronicles generously chipped-in a few Euro, I’d always paid my own wine-tasting way. Yes, that ensured total independence. But also clamped a firm price ceiling on what I could/couldn’t buy.
(On the other hand, I have to say that even spending just €20-€30 on a bottle – and steering clear of the big names – allows you to buy some seriously good Italian wine.)
And gratifyingly, the feedback to the blogs and the vids was invariably positive. With one major exception…
Have you ever come across Lambrusco ? It’s from Modena – also the home of balsamic vinegar – and is like a fizzy strawberryade. Lowish alcohol, and in its coldest, driest, well-made best, (because it can be shabbily over-produced and/or very sweet), a pleasant and refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day.
My misfortune was to get hold of a really bad bottle from a really good producer.
For whatever reason, the wine was tainted and tasted utterly awful. Which can be evidence of poor hygiene/quality control in the winery; or being badly stored/stuck alone and unloved for a very long time on a supermarket shelf (the most usual reason) – or simply bad luck.
As they succinctly say in the States – sh*t happens.
Which is pretty much what I said in my review. Which resulted in much offended and indignant harrumphing from aforesaid top producer along the lines of what right/what credentials (credentials ?)/what standing and what experience I had to judge their wine.
To which the only honest answer was you didn’t need the palate of a Robert Parker or a Hugh Johnson to know when something was better-suited to polishing silver than to drinking.
Proffering an olive branch, I suggested to the winery that if they’d like to send me another bottle of the same wine – or just tell me where I could go and find one – I’d be delighted, even eager, to re-review it.
I think maybe they’re still pondering this, because I’ve not yet had a response.
Maybe I didn’t have the credentials to say it was actually OK.
So finally, (because I knew you’d ask…)
My favourite Italian red: Pretty much anything made from the Nebbiolo grape (like Barolo); Valpolicalla Ripasso; Taurasi (the best bargain you’ll find for a DOCG red); Primitivo from Puglia; and Cantina Orsogna’s ‘Malverno’ Merlot-Montepulciano blend. Still waiting for a suitable occasion to open their multi award-winning ’Nican’ 2008.
My least favourite Italian red: Chianti. We’ve just never hit it off.
My favourite Italian white: Varietals from SudTirol-Alto Adige. Especially from the St Michael winery. Pecorino from Tenuta Ulisse in Abruzzo. Prosecco (natch – but Abruzzo’s sparkling Pecorino, especially from Cantina Colle Moro, is pretty nifty too).
My least favourite Italian white: Overhyped ‘Est ! Est !! Est !!!’ Overproduced Soave, Frascati, Orvieto, Pino Grigio etc etc etc…
Italian wine you’ll never have heard of, but which is really worth trying if you come across a bottle: Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG from Piedmont. A sweet/semi-sweet, sparkling, deep pink wine (officially red, I think), made from Muscat grapes. Served very cold either as an aperitivo or a dessert wine, it’s utterly delicious.
Happy drinking !
AboutAbruzzo is a blog written by David Brenner, a former journalist from the UK. Along with his wife Pauline, David runs Villasfor2 – the only holiday rentals in Abruzzo, (and perhaps even in all Italy), exclusively for couples. No kids. No families. No big groups. Just the two of you.