18 February 2011

la renaissance des aoc's: elisabetta foradori's new amphora crus

At the Renaissance des AOCs tasting I was surprised and delighted to meet Elisabetta Foradori, a trailblazing biodynamic winemaker from Trentino, and one of the most prominent ambassadors of Italian wine in general. Some measure of how pleased I was might be found in my willingness to post the above photo, despite the poor lighting, which causes me to look like a drunken koala.

Foradori's reds, made from the rich, raspy, autochthonous Campo Rotaliano grape Teroldego,* are fixtures on just about every great Italian wine list in the states, including the few that I've worked on myself. Partly this is due to how few Teroldego producers there are - it is not grown in any real quantities outside the tiny Teroldego Rotaliano DOC, of which Foradori is by far the dominant figure. But Teroldego the grape, which has been genetically linked to Syrah, always presents a fine opportunity for sommeliers to surprise their guests with a weird unknown wine - Italy! what diversity! - that nevertheless hits many familiar pleasure centers: rich fruit, tannic grip, relatively tame acid, etc. There are built-in narrative selling points, too: how Elisabetta Foradori lost her father to cancer at a young age, and thereupon took charge of her struggling family estate, and through hard work and clever promotion turned a backwards, hard-to-pronounce local grape into one of Italy's most famous and written-about reds.

You could say its almost a fond tradition for Italian restaurants at a certain level to stock Foradori. I admittedly never gave it a lot of thought, because I found her basic Teroldego engaging, but not lifechanging, and her continually Tre-Bicchieri-netting "Granato" more impressive at the expense of typicity - whatever it is that makes Teroldego Teroldego.** The wines made people happy more than they made me happy. At the Renaissance des AOCs this year, however, Foradori was debuting two new cru magnum bottlings of Teroldego, "Sgarzon" and "Morei," both fermented and aged in clay amphorae. I tasted the latter, and to say it floored me would be an understatement. It actually retroactively justified all the hyperbole ever written about the grape, "Granato," the whole operation.

Here, here was Teroldego! A darkfruited ferrous / mineral nose, promising something brooding and a little jagged, instead yielded a lilting, sonorous palate of red fruit, orange peel, and cigar smoke. The tannins were long as canoes. I thought: I could actually finish this magnum myself.

I didn't taste the "Sgarzon," unfortunately - the magnum was empty by the time I made it around to Foradori's table. (Perhaps someone shared my reaction.) But the "Morei" was the most exciting thing I tasted all day, easily upstaging Foradori's more celebrated and classically styled "Granato," which we tasted afterwards (a 2006, I think).

The artistic evolution at work here - wherein the vigneron has first introduced a distinctive wine within classic forms, to great success, before starting all over again in new forms - is something like the transformation Tom Waits pulled in the early 1980's, from a writer of twisted but traditional torch songs to a composer of wild percussive "soundscapes" with very little precedent in pop music.

Mme. Foradori explained that she had always known these two particular Teroldego parcels yielded superior wines, and she would have vinified them separately years ago, but the market wasn't yet ready. This seems a reasonable explanation, considering they are geek-varietal wines aged in amphorae bottled only in magnum. That Foradori now considers the world ready for these abstract compositions says positive things about the world. (Maybe just New York, where I suspect almost all of this will be already sold.)

* Pronounced "Ter-AWL-deg-O." Not, as a friend and ex-coworker once helpfully pointed out, like "Talladega Nights."

** To me the "Granato" is trop Bordelaise - it's always tasted as though it were an effort to prove that a wiry Italian village grape could swing with stuffy lugubrious big money wines. My take is: it can, but who wishes it to?

Related Links:

Loire Road Trip, pt. I: Domaine Guiberteau
Loire Road Trip, pt. II: Clos Rougeard
Loire Road Trip, pt. III: Café de la Promenade
Loire Road Trip, pt. IV: Renaissance des AOCs
Loire Road Trip, pt. V: Bistrot de la Place, Saumur
Loire Road Trip, pt. VI: La Dive Bouteille
Loire Road Trip, pt. VII: Quedubon Homecoming

A very recent profile of the Teroldego grape by Eric Asimov @ NYTimes
A recent visit to the Foradori cellars @ ItalyDecanted
An interesting discussion of amphorae use in Italian wine @ Vinoroma
A totally fawning profile of Elisabetta Foradori @ WineGeeks

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