Everyone has some ideas about the Italians. They are hearty, loud, gesticulate wildly, like pasta and hate ketchup, and are real charmers. Above all, there is the mafia, not entirely free of romantic obsessions, the opera, severed horse heads in the bed and other pleasant things.
Moreover, they are proud of their homeland, so it’s no coincidence that their geographical product protection of agricultural products is so advanced, probably only the French can surpass them here. But even they, the French that is, cannot compete in the field of grape varieties, according to the upstanding Italians, who grimly maintain and differentiate between nearly two thousand autochton varieties; perhaps it is a bit of an exaggeration, but all valleys and hills claim one as their own, thus declaring that their child is the best, cleverest and most beautiful in the whole wide world. So is it any wonder then, that they organise individual, regional wine contests, and may Bacchus bless them for this! WineSofa was also invited to such a local happening, close to Brindisi, whose past is mostly lost in a fog of childhood nursery rhymes, but in any event, the fact that the city was the capital of Italy for half a year during World War II comes to mind. That in itself is not a virtue, neither is the fact that Publius Vergilius Maro, perhaps the most famous epic poet of the Roman era, died here.
I sing of arms and the man…
…wrote the poet in the first line of the Aeneid, although specialist literature rather deals with the nineteenth line of the fourth book, which even awakened the imagination of the researchers investigating the sexual habits of the historical Rome with its linguistic playfulness. If you don’t believe this, you can check it for yourself! Well, we didn’t do so (back to work after these easy detours), as during that one week they laid on so many events that we only managed to steal an hour to visit Brindisi, from where we were staying ten kilometres away. The wine competition, Radici del Sud, focused the native vines and wineries of Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicily. In the first few days, the invited guests, namely writers and wine merchants of the world, met briefly with the winemakers, who were waiting for the guests who had to change places every twenty minutes at the sound of a gong. I don’t know who was unluckier, the winemakers who had to chant the same words about themselves like Tibetan monks, hoping for business, or the other side who had to keep repeating its questions. Of course, you can also learn something here, but it’s rather futile to think that people can do this over a period of four or five days and still be fully attentive. On the one hand, the twenty-minute sessions seemed to be tight for the thirty wineries, changing on a half-daily basis, so the Norwegian journalist colleague, taking notes like a robot, ‘only’ managed to sit down at thirteen of the wineries’ tables in the first morning. On the other hand, none of the winemakers were really able to present ‘themselves’ properly in such a short time and many of them had brought just one or two bottles of wine (although, we have to add that they had made a wise decision), so this was far from being a good representation of their range, while others, who had brought 15-20 wines, were afraid of the gong, so started by presenting their ‘three best wines’. This was of course really inconvenient for everyone. At the end of each day, the organisers laid on a dinner event, with exciting culinary experiences and, as is the habit for Mediterranean people, the dinner lasted at least four hours, meaning that our team became more and more tired and fuller and fuller. The finale of the event was a wine contest lasting for several days, in which winemakers could only enter wines made from native varieties. Audiophiles could certainly learn more here, the president of the jury, the extremely personable Tom Cannavan, was very helpful despite being a ‘wine celeb’, and seemed to be, or most likely was, a real life jacket among the sea of Taurasis, Anglianicos and Negroamaros. On the last evening, which was also open to the public, there was a huge pool party, with a lot of wine, a DJ and ordered-in pizza, as the jury, who was aware of his own importance (read stupid here), could no longer gain access to the buffet supper, due to the local regulars, who totally ignored them, really quite logically.
Taboos and idols
Acidity burns out in the south. Red wines will end up ‘jammy’ in the hot sunshine. The level of ‘spirit’ increases easily. There isn’t even a drinkable white wine in that area. How often can we hear this and similar such statements, which Hungarian wine-lovers also believe, as we know that sometimes these phrases appear to be true in our small homeland. So how is the situation in the south of Italy, where we know that the heat soars in summer, there is hardly any rain and it is no accident that they take a siesta; however, a good grape cannot ensconce itself in the shade, so its fate can only be one of the statements above, or maybe even all at once. I’m writing (saying) it slowly and articulately, so that everyone can understand. We tasted nearly eight hundred local wines over the period of a week and none of the wines were lacking in acidity or were flabby. Indeed most of them had lovely, lively acidity, most of the reds weren’t ‘jammy’ at all, alcohol was moderate and we most definitely met some (but not too many) beautiful world-class white wines. Let’s have a look at the keywords: height above sea level, appropriate grape variety and suitable method of cultivation. Focusing on these aspects resulted in complex and gently elegant Sicilian Catarrattos, tightly structured Negroamaros and Aglianico del Vultures with tingling acidity, which can most definitely be offered to all wine-lovers! After surviving the ‘ordeals’ of that one week, we can safely say that the often undervalued southern Italian wine regions contradict the stereotypes, and to top it all, they delight visitors with their excellent wines. The number of tourists sunbathing on their beaches is half that of those lying on more popular beaches, so this fact is really the icing on the cake, isn't it?