A couple of months back I came across a trade show that was coming to San Francisco. I was immediately interested and somehow fascinated that I had missed it previously. In this case, it’s Slow Wine and here’s my Slow Wine 2018 Review:
Ok, so here’s the background. I didn’t grow up in a wine house. The only time I ever saw wine, was when my dad would occasionally end up with a box from Price Club (it’s Costco these days).
I also didn’t grow up in a homecooked type of meal house. There was a lot of fast food. There was also a lot of eating out. Coco’s, Carl’s Jr, Mimi’s Cafe and more were in the regular rotation. Not to mention the fact that my dad owned a Dairy Queen.
As I got older, stuff changed. My wife and I cook at home, pretty much every night. The kids expect it and tend to prefer home to restaurants, we’re pretty good at it. Plus, as you might expect, there’s normally wine.
Part of that sea change happened in college, but it metastasized during a trip to Italy before our junior year of college. I had a roommate whose great aunt and uncle lived in a small Tuscan town called Lucca. They lived in a top floor flat in the center of a town largely untouched by history, back then the majority of the town still existed within a set of Medieval castle walls.
My then girlfriend (now my wife) and I spent about a month traveling through Italy, including about a week in Lucca. His cousin owned a bakery. The other cousin owned the gelateria. The great uncle, aside from starting his day at church, would go up to an acre that they owned in the mountains about a half hour ride away and bring back whatever was ripe for lunch.
This was the very definition of Slow Food, before I knew that was a thing.
Where we live locally might be the height of the Slow Food movement in America. Alice Waters opened her Chez Panisse about 3 miles from the house, it’s a spot where we walk by on the way to the kids Pediatrician, or to pick up a prescription, or to grab a slice of seasonal pizza at the highly acclaimed Cheese Board Pizza.
So yeah, I believe in the wide mission of Slow Food.
For all those reasons, I was excited to see that the Slow Food movement had created a similar organization for wine.
Slow Wine was created 8 years ago and it follows the same general guidelines as does Slow Food. Agribusiness is bad. Locally produced wine is better. Buying from a winemaker directly, is preferable to buying through many phases of middle men.
I can’t agree more.
The Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco yesterday offered a rare opportunity to see the movement in action. While Slow Wine initially focused exclusively on Italian wineries, the gates are beginning to open a bit. This year, their 8th annual tasting, allowed some California wineries the opportunity to take part. That’s a good thing as the Slow Food movement has gained acceptance, it’s started to lose some steam in adding members and charters. Slow Wine will assuredly suffer the same fate without getting some of the worlds best known wine regions on board. This is a good first step.
A few things struck me at the Slow Wine tasting this year.
First, if you ever go to one of these, throw one of those standard wine tasting rules out the window. Don’t eat beforehand. Seriously, there was some really, really good food.
Second, I was on my absolute best behavior. Since my wine clubs don’t include Italian wine, instead focused on only wines found on America’s west coast…..I sometimes find myself simply trying a bunch of stuff that I like. In an Italian tasting, that involves me eating pasta and drinking Barolo.
Yesterday was different though.
First, if you think about the map of Italy that you know in your head, you likely think about it in the same way that I do, as a boot. I don’t own a pair of boots, my wife does though and her boots are straight on the top.
Instead if you look at Venice in the north-eastern corner of the country in the Adriatic Sea, you’ll note something interesting. Italy actually curves around the northern reaches of the sea and creates a very small border with a country that most people don’t realize that Italy borders: Slovenia.
That little section creates a range of white wines, it’s cooler after all in that section of Europe than it is down south.
The region that straddles that border is generally referred to as Friuli-Venezia Giulia and it’s most famous for amber wines as they’re called in Europe, or Orange wine here in America. In fact, I’ve shipped an Orange wine before…..with the exact amount of success that you’re suspecting.
One of the first wineries I ran into was Meroi. Meroi has an interesting story. it’s onto it’s 4th generation of family ownership, but also boats an ecclectic group of wines made from a combination of international varietals as well as native ones.
They didn’t bring the natives.
That’s literally why we’re there.
But, on the international side of things I tasted a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay that were acidic and easily sell-able in the United States. Meroi is literally ahead of the curve here, the industry, like much of the Italian wine trade, is going to see increased sales based solely upon consumer preferences catching up.
That’s true for whites, but also for reds. For quite some time Italy had two major challenges. First, their wine industry had not industrialized in the way that others had. Rightly or wrongly, technology in wine helps. Stuff like optical sorters for grapes and other 21st century adaptions aren’t only conveniences, they literally allow winemakers to show their true intent more easily.
Secondly, Italian vineyards are full of grapes, less common than those in France. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir dominate international markets on the high end of the price spectrum (Merlot to a lesser extent, largely due to its failures in the warmer climates of the new world). Let’s face facts, ask your average wine drinker friends (in America, that’s about a glass every 2 days) and can they talk to you about the differences between Aglianico and Sangiovese? Not a chance, but they know the basic difference in structure between Cabernet and Pinot right?
So Italian wineries and winemakers back in the 80’s had to teach people about their native grapes, while modernizing and then marketing their wines all over again, after all, after modernization, they weren’t selling wine better suited to checkered table cloths any longer.
So as things changed, something happened to the market. Instead of the fruit bombs that were popular when modernization began, structured, but elegant wines became all the rage. Acidity even in reds was prized. And Italian red varietals are more acidic in their natural states than are native grapes to Spain, Portugal and yes, even France.
So the market moved toward them. Nice when things work out on their own right?
I ran into a few wineries that seemingly were embracing that trend toward ever increasing acidity. Vietti has put out some incredible scores according to some citics, including these beauties from Anthony Galloni at Vinuous:
All of these reds offer a lot more acidity than many American’s are accustomed to.
They have appropriate levels for the grapes in question though and the critics scores, as you’ve already seen, represent the high quality being offered.
Lastly, I’ve written and spoken about the need to eat as part of my wine tasting rules. For Slow Wine, that rule might not actually be a good one.
Here’s what was a very, very small part of lunch:
Overall, Slow Wine and their 2018 was a fun, worthwhile event. I do wish there was some sort of a seminar portion of course, while some folks are there to drink some really, really good wine for free, many would like a more intimate look into the industry when we have the chance.