Some of the interesting Italian winemakers Malcolm Jolley has met this year.
The Toronto wine scene begins to heat up after a lull in March, and goes full blast until June. I mean the wine marketing scene, or more specifically the events, seminars, tastings and winemaker visits that GFR endeavours to cover as thoroughly as we can. Unfortunately, because of sheer volume, timing, we miss things, or good stories get shuffled because something else makes a better editorial fit. I have been on holiday for a week or so, which has given me the opportunity to look back through my notebooks and picture galleries to see what I’ve missed, and I’ve found a theme: charming Italian winemakers*. Here are three I met in Toronto in the last few months.
Marilisa Allegrini has been an integral part of her family’s success sine she began to work for her father in 19080. Allegrini was in town in March and I spent a very pleasant hour on a Friday evening with her and the Allegrini winery’s North American brand manager Robin Shay, sipping Allegrini Soave and their delicious 2013 Palazzo della Torre. Marilisa Allegrini was on a roll at the time: her picture was on the cover of The Wine Spectator and she was on her way to Napa to appear at the Women of the Vine conference. We spoke about her initial reluctance to join the family firm, but that once she had her father, Giovanni, treated her as an equal to her brothers Franco and the late Walter. It was a great interview, or would have been, if the acoustics in her hotel’s bar weren’t so bad. Unfortunately much of what she said can’t be made out from my recording. Next time (I hope there is one), I will be more careful when I get a chance to speak to one of the pioneers of the Italian wine revolution.
Lamberto Frescobaldi and Stefano Ruini
If you are ever asked if you would like to go to lunch with Lamberto Frescobaldi, I highly recommend you accept the invitation. That’s what I, and a few dozen wine journalists and sommeliers, did in April Frescobaldi, who is the president of his family’s renown Tuscan wine operation, came to town to introduce the new winemaker at Luce della Vite, Stefano Ruini, and give a presentation on the label’s newly built winery in Montalcino. Oh, and also he brought some wine to go with lunch: the 1997, 1999, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 vintages of the Super-Tuscan Sangiovese and Merlot blend. The wines did not suck, nor should they at their price point. But excellent wine is even better with excellent conversation, and Mr. Frescobaldi turns out to be an interesting man. For instance, I learned that he used to practice his English by visiting a family friend in Toronto as a kid in the 1970s. I also learned that wine is not his only passion, and he is responsible for setting up a very successful burger joint, Il Quartino, near the Frescobaldi estate in Pelago. The restaurant came about when Frescolbaldi bought a few Chianina cows, when the breed looked to be endangered. The cows multiplied, and while they are famous as the key ingredient of Steak Florentine, as he explained, there are only so many T-bones on a given animal, and so the family that’s given the owlrd 30 generations of winemakers, got into the burger business!
The Tre Bieccheri wine show every June is one of my favourite big wine events. The wineries, by definition, must have made one of the best (three out of three glasses) wines in Italy and the quality of the products put forward is always high. But wine is not made by itself, and it’s also a great show for meeting interesting wine people or catching-up with people I’ve met on my travels like Antonella Bronca of the Sorelle Bronca Prosecco house. If Frescobaldi is a grand old big house, and Allegrini is a medium and dynamic force, the Bronca sisters’ operation is boutique and laser focused on small production bubbles. I wrote about the Bronca family in this post, after I had been to Conegliano-Valdobbiadene a few years ago, where I was duly impressed with clean and crisp Prosecco DOCG. Look for it on the wine lists of discriminating restaurants. I was delighted to see Antonella again and pleased (though not at all surprised) to figure out her agency in Ontario is none other than Cru Wine Merchants, run by the good old friend of GFR, Charles Baker. Charming wine people attract charming wine people, I guess!
* I am using the term ‘winemaker’ loosely to mean anyone involved in the operation of a winery, which includes proprietors, export managers, and so on.