Stories of the Vine: Tuscan Icon Warms Up Cold Night

Posted by Amy Neyer, CSW, WSET Advanced Certified

I admit it. The prospect of staying in the comfort of my warm house with a mug of hot tea and a stack of Decanter magazines was almost too tempting during last Monday’s Polar Vortex redux.

Happily, I’m really glad I didn’t or I would have missed a lovely tasting experience with noted Tuscan winemaker Paolo De Marchi, who was welcomed to Cincinnati with some of the coldest weather in decades. The event, sponsored by wineCRAFT, a local boutique importer of well-crafted Italian wines, featured De Marchi at the Mercantile Library, a perfect venue for informative stories of around the themes of authenticity and history.

If you don’t know of De Marchi and his legendary status in Italian winemaking (with a focus on Tuscany and some Piedmont), you’re not alone. Devotees of Chianti and other wine geeky folks will tell you that De Marchi’s reputation is grounded in a very Old World approach to making wine and his dedication to making classic Chianti wines which rely most heavily on Sangiovese and other indigenous grapes instead of a bolder, modern approach. You can learn more about De Marchi here and here.

With his gentle manner and subtle humor, De Marchi entertained the sold-out crowd of 120 or so with personal stories about the launch and evolution of his family’s vineyards, his approach to wine and on the state of affairs within Italian and Tuscan wine regulatory environments.

Among his most notable (and refreshing) observations:

– “I hate the word ‘winemaker.’ Wine is made by soil, climate and variety (of grape). There is no translation in Italy for winemaker.”

– “Use varieties for what’s made best.”

– “My wine rules are simple. If you make bad wine and add bad blend. You get bad blend. Think before blending.”

– “It’s difficult to make red wine from white grapes.”

– “Appellation rules are written looking to the a past that doesn’t exist anymore.”

– “If I don’t like it, it’s impossible to sell.”

The Mercantile event was the first of several stops De Marchi made during his visit to Cincinnati, which is increasingly attracting notable winemakers. Last fall brought the arrival of Andre Hueston Mack, former French Laundry sommelier and owner/winemaker at Oregon-based Mouton Noir, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards family, a high quality Pinot Noir producer, at the forefront of the New California wine movement.

The tasting featured six wines from both the family’s Isole e Olena property, located in central Chianti, and Proprieta Sperino from their property in Piedmont.

The Isole e Olena line-up ranged from a very fresh Chardonnay to an earthy Syrah, which he was among the first to bring to Chianti. His featured wines, however, were grounded in the classic grape of Tuscany – Sangiovese – and featured a traditional Chianti Classico and one of his most notable wines, Cepparello. De Marchi intentionally sells Cepparello – which he considers his purest expression of Sangiovese – under the lower IGT designation (versus a higher level of quality designation). De Marchi rather the wine, made of 100% Sangiovese, compete in a lower designation with more traditional varieties than have it compete with other Chianti wines blended in a Bordeaux style, allowed under Italian wine regulations.

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The featured wines from Proprieta Sperino included Uvaggio, a Nebbiolo-dominant blend that included indigenous grapes of Vespolina and Croatina and Lessona, comprised of 100% Nebbiolo, a wonderful expression of the grape featuring a granite-driven minerality.

The De Marchi event also featured a few familiar faces from the Cincinnati wine community, who were on hand to lend expertise at the tasting stations, as well as enjoy the wines from a seminal Tuscan winemaker. While beer is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance here, it’s hopeful to see the makings of a much-needed local wine community show itself to the community as well.

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