Returning to Cosa Bolle, the Chianti Classico Consorzio recently announced that it has joined a number of other wine producing regions in signing a petition requesting international recognition of appellation names.
The movement actually got started last year, with the winemakers of Napa Valley, Oregon, Washington State, Walla Walla Valley, Champagne, Porto, and Jerez signing a declaration stating (among other things) that some areas of the world are uniquely suited to winemaking and people do associate the names of said areas with wine, the goal being to "join together in supporting efforts to maintain and protect the integrity of these place names, which are fundamental tools for consumer identification of great winegrowing regions and the wines they produce."
This year the winemakers of Chianti Classico, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, Tokaj, Victoria, and Western Australia have joined the founding seven, and to be honest I hope the movement snowballs. One might think it would -- after all, the signers of the petition want a wine whose name involves a place, say Burgundy, or Chianti, or Champagne, be made in that place, and not half way around the globe from it -- and this does make sense.
However, the idea faces opposition on a number of fronts. The most obvious is winemakers elsewhere, especially California, who use more renowned names to help sell cheap knockoff wines, for example California Burgundy or California Champagne; the practice is legal (in the US) because the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines the knockoff wines as "semi-generic," which implies that it considers the true Burgundy or Champagne to be types of wines (akin to red or sparkling) rather than specific wines from specific places, and this in turn gives an idea of the mindset of the American regulators.
But things are changing; the Consorzio's press release mentions that the California Supreme Court ruled last year that a wine with the word Napa on the label must be made with grapes (minimum 75%) from the Napa Valley, and that the US Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
A step forward, though the going is not smooth: The Bronco Wine Company, which lost the ruling, is now selling a Napa-based wine for $ 3.99 at Trader Joe's. This is probably not what the folk who are trying to make Napa something special had in mind, but at least the wine is now tied to a place, and they have begun to label their wines correctly.
Other producers are instead objecting that since they have the word "California" on their labels, consumers know they're not getting true Champagne, Burgundy, or Whatever when they buy the wine, and there's therefore no reason to change practices. This is disingenuous; if the consumers weren't recognizing the foreign names the producers wouldn't be putting them on the labels.
It is true that developing a new name from scratch takes time and effort, but one can phase into it -- winemakers in Alsace, faced with loosing the rights to the word Tokay (the EU ruled it should be limited to Hungarian wines), gradually changed their wine from Tokay D'Alsace to Tokay Pinot Gris D'Alsace to Pinot Gris D'Alsace, and consumers took it in stride. The makers of California Champagne could do the same, and as an added bonus, would be able to export their wines to areas that recognize appellation names -- in particular, Europe.
The other major source of opposition to the recognition of appellation names is the food industry. The Consorzio that oversees the production of Parmigiano recently went to court to keep German cheesemakers from registering a knockoff they call Parmesan as a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Denomination of Protected Origin, the food equivalent of an Appellation).
At least they were successful; Canada is blocking Prosciutto di Parma because a Canadian food company registered the word Parma in 1958, and now Canada is saying that the prosciutto producers of the city of Parma who want to put the word Parma on their prosciutto labels for sale in Canada are infringing upon the rights of a Canadian company. That Parma is a place name, and that Parmensi have been making prosciutto since the dawn of time (they offered Hannibal prosciutto, to celebrate his victories over the Romans) makes no difference. However, as the Napa ruling shows, things may be changing. I hope so.
Protection Involves More Than Just Appellations
Moving in a slightly different direction, while it is important to protect and recognize Appellation names abroad, it is just as important to protect and preserve the areas where fine wines and foods come from. Many of these areas are quite beautiful, and close to major population centers, and this can lead to serious problems: Indiscriminate development can do all sorts of damage.
For example, paving over areas that had been forest or field increases runoff, which results in increased erosion and flash flooding downstream, population increase increases the demand for water (in short supply in much of Italy) while stressing the environment in many ways, and then there are simple aesthetics -- many of the new housing tracts and industrial parks are eyesores. To combat the problem in the Chianti Classico area, which is looked at with great interest by those who would like to provide suburban housing for the populations of Florence and Siena, the Chianti Classico Consorzio established the Fondazione per la Tutela del Territorio del Chianti Classico Onlus a number of years ago.
Their track record has been mixed; some towns in Chianti have understood the need to limit the volume of new construction, while others have instead embraced the developers, mushrooming frightfully. San Casciano, about 10 km from Florence, is an especially good example of the latter; they've added miles of new roads packed with houses, and also transformed former industrial buildings into housing, without (it seems from the outside) thinking about how to strengthen the town's infrastructures; the upshot is that if everyone from the new areas heads into the Centro Storico (which used to be delightful) at once they can't park, and the streets are so packed that it's difficult to walk. This is what people left Florence to get away from.
At least San Casciano is just dealing with population. The Chianti Rufina area, one of the wildest and most unspoiled sections of Tuscany, is instead threatened by plans to build a garbage incinerator on the banks of the Sieve River, which bisects it. This is a dreadful location: The Val di Sieve is quite narrow, and will trap whatever emerges from the smokestacks, while getting the trash to the incinerator in the first place will paralyze traffic and increase air pollution further. The local population is up in arms -- they fear that tourism will collapse and property values plummet if the thing is built -- and we shall see what happens.
Tuscany isn't the only part of Italy with problems, however. The Valpolicella, a strikingly beautiful network of valleys just north of Verona, is under a similar assault from developers, who have begun to pour cement in quantity; among the victims so far is a court near the only Palladian villa in the Province of Verona -- it has been replaced by new houses. According to Count Pieralvise Serego Alighieri, who makes some of the finest wines in the region, the mayors who are allowing this belong in Hell with the Ignavi, those who lived doing neither good nor bad because they lacked the moral strength to take a side. He of course has, and has set up a foundation to defend the territory. They're just starting out, but do have a couple of sites, http://www.valpolicellaonline.org/ and http://www.teladoiolavalpolicella.it/.
Preserving appellations is a cause well worth supporting, because if Italian agricultural areas fall under the sway of the developers, we will loose not just the products and the beautiful places, but also the way of life that brought us the products in the first place.
Moving in a very different direction, we're still in the midst of Lent, which is not -- as many think -- a specific time of penance (though if one wants to do penance nobody is going to object). Rather, it's a time for spiritual renewal in preparation for Easter. And renouncing meats and rich foods? This ties in with the spiritual renewal; the Church is asking people to renounce out of respect for Jesus's suffering on the Cross and to share the privations suffered year-round by the poor.
I've gotten several requests for baccalà of late, and they would certainly qualify as Lenten dishes. We'll start with a Roman recipe, for Baccalà Alla Trasteverina, which is easy and will be heart-warming at this time of year.
To serve 4 you'll need:
- 1 3/4 pounds (800 g) soaked baccalà (see http://italianfood.about.com/od/fishdishes/a/aa110897.htm for instructions on selecting and soaking baccalà)
- A scant pound (400 g) onions, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- An anchovy, boned and rinsed
- The juice of a lemon
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts
- 1/2 cup (50 g) flour
- 1 tablespoon plumped raisins
- Salt to taste
Rinse the baccalà, remove the skin, and pat it dry. Cut it into pieces, flour them, and fry them, turning them carefully once, in a pot with just a bit of oil until golden. Drain the pieces well on absorbent paper.
Preheat your oven to 420 F (210 C)
Add a little oil to the pan if need be (there should be a couple of tablespoons) and sauté the garlic clove; when it is golden add the onions. Season with salt to taste, and add the capers, raisins, and pine nuts. Add the anchovy too, and stir it about until it dissolves.
Turn the onion mixture out into a baking pan, and arrange the pieces of baccalà over it. Pour the pan drippings over the baccalà, put the pan in the oven, and cook for a few minutes. Upon removing the baccalà from the oven, sprinkle the lemon juice over it, dust it with the parsley, and serve at once.
The wine? White, and Frascati would be a good choice.
Next, a baccalà and potato salad from the Veneto that will be nice when it's a little warmer out -- in the past it would have been a summery dish, because that's when string beans are in season, but now, thanks to freezer bins, we can enjoy it year round. To serve 4:
- 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) soaked baccalà (see http://italianfood.about.com/od/fishdishes/a/aa110897.htm for instructions on selecting and soaking baccalà)
- 1 clove garlic
- A slice of lemon, preferably organic
- 2 anchovy fillets
- A bay leaf
- 2 medium sized potatoes
- 2/3 pound (300 g) string beans (frozen will be fine)
- A small bunch of parsley
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1/4 cup pitted black olives
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the baccalà into pieces about 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Put them in a pot with two inches (5 cm) cold water, the lemon, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer the fish for 20 minutes, then drain the pieces, and filter a few tablespoons of the broth.
Boil, or better yet steam, the potatoes separately; when a skewer penetrates easily peel them and duce them.
Cook the green beans too, in lightly salted water, until done but not overly soft.
Peel the garlic clove and mince it with the anchovy filets, capers, and parsley. Put the mixture in a bowl and add to it 2 tablespoons lemon juice, the olive oil, 2 tablespoons fish broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Combine the potatoes, baccalà, and string beans in a salad bowl, add the olives and the sauce, mix gently, and serve.
A wine? White, and Lugana would be nice.
Last thing: Vinitaly, Italy's major wine trade fair, will be held in Verona this week, from Thursday through Monday. If you're in Northern Italy, it's a fascinating event. See http://www.vinitaly.com.
This time's proverb is Calabrian: Miegliu ccù autri spàrtari ca pèrdari sulu: It's better to divide with others than to lose alone.
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com
PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find them on the IWR site, through http://www.cosabolle.com. Access to the online archives is via subscription -- in other words there's a yearly charge that helps us to offset our costs -- and includes extras of various kinds, including illustrations and links to other resources. IWR subscribers automatically have access to the Cosa Bolle archives.