New York Christmas, 2000

From the New York Christmas, 2000


by Jeremy Parzin

What makes a great wine? This is the eternal question faced day in and day out by winemakers, grape-growers, writers, tasters, restranteurs and people just like you—as you look for a good bottle to order at an elegant dinner or to enjoy at home with family and friends on a night for home cooking.

When it comes to the making of a truly great wine, there is one thing that the experts agree on: the single most important factor in the production of wine is the terroir where the grapes are cultivated.

What is terroir? In the words of at least one oenologist, it is “the total natural environment of any viticultural site, defined in terms of climate, sunlight, geography, and soil-water relations.” And when it comes to the real combination of these factors, there is no place more wonderfully diverse than Italy. Like its fantastic tapestry of different cultures, languages, and flavors, the wines of Italy are as varied as the people themselves. And as the regional cuisines of Italy are being revived by some of the greatest chefs in the world today—Italian and foreign—so are many of the great wines from nearly every wine-producing region.

From the northernmost region of Trentino, where high altitudes and gravelly pebbly terrain produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir in the world, to the volcanic soil of regions like Latium and Campania in the south, where some of the most ancient grape varietals known to man have been revived by a growing number of producers, the wines of Italy are enjoying a renaissance never before seen.

Happily, as a result of the heightened interest in fine Italian wines and authentic Italian regional cuisine, our choices in the Italian wines we drink are becoming greater and greater. More and more “boutique” wineries—with limited, high-quality vintages—are making their wines available in North America today thanks to importers like Vignaioli, who have managed to bring some of the most exclusive wines of the more noted regions like Piedmont and Tuscany while introducing Americans to the great wines of Trentino, Friuli, Campania, and Latium, among others.

“The most important thing for me in choosing a wine is the terroir where the grapes are grown,” explains wine expert Dino Tantawi of Vignaioli when asked how he chooses the labels that he brings in. “That’s why I travel to Italy sometimes four times a year: to follow the wines of future vintages from the quality of the soil to their exposure to the sun and training of the vines.” Dino spends a lot of time in Tuscany, for example, where the quality of grapes can vary greatly just a few miles down the road. Thanks to Dino’s hard work, we can now enjoy some of the greatest Tuscan wines produced by some of the smallest, artisan winemakers like Poggio Il Castellare. “The Poggio Il Castellare winery is located on the site of an ancient Etruscan settlement,” said Dino. “The terroir of the estate’s land is particularly rich and its position with respect to Mt. Amiata creates the ideal conditions for the cultivation of the famous Brunello grapes.”

Luckily for us, one man’s painstaking quest to find some of the best Brunello is our good fortune!