Forza Azzurri: Wine lovers rooting for Italy |

Forza Azzurri: Wine lovers rooting for Italy

Kelly J. Hayes

Under the Influence

2017 Cantina Zaccagnoni TRALCETTO Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

I was looking for an Italian wine under $20, something to pair with a New York Pizza this week, and this Montepulciano from the Abruzzo region just east of Rome fit the bill at $19.97 from Four Dogs in Basalt. Deep purple, dry and delicious, it had that rustic mouth feel that says “Italy.”

In a time when levity is a rarity, the wine fountains of Castelvetro provided a few hours of joy to the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna this past month.

Inexplicably, or so it would seem, Cantina Settecani Castelvetro, producer of the region’s famed sparkling red wine, Lambrusco Grasparossa, had a malfunction at the winery. A technical fault, the mix-up became “il miracolo del vino” as Lambrusco flowed into the city’s water system and ended up in the spigots of a few homes. When residents turned on their faucets, pink sparkling wine flowed out instead of water.

It could only happen in Italy.

We all know that Italy, the largest producer and consumer of wine on Earth, has taken direct hits from the coronavirus. The numbers of cases and deaths have been staggering. It makes the heart ache.

One year ago this week I attended the Little Nell Wine Academy, where an august group studied the “Wines of Italy” atop Aspen Mountain. Master sommeliers like Jay Fletcher and Carlton McCoy (then the wine director at The Little Nell, now president and CEO of Heitz Cellars) mentored a group of 20 attendees through an immersive three-day study and celebration of wines from the boot.

In happier days the instructors of the 2019 Little Nell Wine Academy pose for a post-lunch photo atop Aspen Mountain.
There is nothing so sweet as the interaction of wine and nature. Here, atop Aspen Mountain, with the Highland Bowl as a backdrop.

It inspired an insane desire to revisit the vineyards of Tuscany and Piedmont. Alas, while that sojourn remains on hold to this day, it is one that I swear to make once this is all just a memory.

Wine is the lifeblood of Italian culture. It flows through every part of life, from the dirt in the vineyards, which proliferate in virtually every corner of the country, to the dinner tables where families have come together for generations over jugs and bottles of the local vino, to the economy, which has now ground to a halt. With over 900,000 registered vineyards and 4,000 years of oenological history, there is not another nation on Earth that is as culturally and financially dependent on wine.

All of that was to be on display this month at Vinitaly, the world’s most important wine show in Verona. It is an event where over 125,000 Italian and international attendees buy and sell wine. But last week, sadly, this year’s iteration was officially canceled until April 2021. At this time, no one knows what the Italian wine industry will look like 12 months from now.

Spring has come early to many of Italy’s wine regions and there are hopes that the 2020 vintage will defy the tragedies of the year and be special in its own right. It has been exactly one month since the March 10 orders from the Italian prime minister shut everything down in the country. There are still a handful of months before the “vendemmia,” or harvest season, in August.

The view from above the tiny wine town of San Gusme in the Chianti region of Northern Italy.

Limited staffs at wineries are struggling to complete their spring pruning and they also need to keep the wineries, which are full with previous vintages, functioning appropriately.

While there have been wars, conquests and, yes, even pandemics in the four-millennium history of Italian wine, this may well be the most challenging time ever. May the challenges be met and may Lambrusco flow, figuratively of course, from all of Italy’s fountains.

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