Friday, July 23, 2010

Know What You Don't Know

In his new column on, Matt Kramer makes a confession that I imagine many, many people wish they had the confidence to say publicly: Despite years of studying Italian wine, and living in the country, and collecting and drinking its wines, he still finds himself confronted--rather regularly--with Italian grape varieties and producers that are unfamiliar.

This is huge for a highly regarded wine writer to admit anything but vast expertise in his specific area of the field--but there it is, right on the computer screen for all the world to see.

On a recent visit to the restaurant A-16 in San Francisco, for example--the spot is known for its extensive selection of Italian wines--Kramer “was handed a superbly flavorful dry white wine: 2008 Pecorino Colline Pescaresi from the producer Tiberio,” he writes. “I don't mind telling you...that I had never heard of the Pecorino grape variety, the Colline Pescaresi district or the producer Tiberio. Other than that, I'm an expert.

“Mind you, this Pecorino wasn't just some bland white wine mouthwash...This was really dazzling stuff, zingy with minerality and scents of herbs such as rosemary and sage delivered with an impressively dense texture. There wasn't a trace of oak, by the way, and none needed. It was a ‘where have you been all my life?’ white wine.

“Of course,” Kramer continues, “when I got home I raced to the computer to become a know-it-all about Pecorino. It turns out that the grape variety wasn't even isolated as such until the 1980s and that the first varietally labeled Pecorino appeared only in 1996.”

And so it goes with wine, as it does with music, film, literature: Only by opening ourselves up to experiences we’ve never had before can we truly be charmed and educated and won over in equal measure.

Last night, for example, we held a wine and cheese cake tasting at Wine Chateau Piscataway, and nearly every single person in the room commented on how they had either never tasted red wine and cheese cake together before, or experienced those particular wines in the past (Negro Amaro, for example, or a ripasso). So what was intended as a fun way to spend an evening actually turned into much more: An education, and an eye-opening one at that.

The wine world is so big, and so diverse, that it always--always--pays to explore previously unfamiliar territory. The rewards are tremendous, and often far more pleasurable than you ever imagined.


Anonymous said...

So, which wines went well with what types of cheese cake??? JimP

NYCWineDeals on July 23, 2010 at 9:15 PM said...

I was glad to read his column as well because I keep seeing new varieties as well. I'm certainly not an expert, so it's nice to see Kramer and the likes admitting they are still learning! I'm actually glad there will always be new wine to taste and learn about.

Brian Freedman on July 27, 2010 at 10:41 AM said...

Jim - what was really interesting was how well all of the wines paired with the range of cheese cakes. But, personally, my favorite two were the Moscato d'Asti with the classic cheese cake, and the Malbec with the chocolate chip one. Amazing pairing!

Ted Liberti on August 11, 2010 at 12:58 PM said...

Brian, Great article highlighting Matt Kramer's notes on how it's quite fine to be open to continuing wine education, especially when it comes to Italy. With over 350+ "authorized" grape varieties and more than 500 other documented varieties, the world of Italian wines sure does have an embarrassment of riches!!

Italian Wine Grape Varietals

Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIRAF), has documented over 350 grapes and granted them "authorized" status. There are more than 500 other documented varietals in circulation as well. The following is a list of the most common and important of Italy's varietals.

For more Italian varietal info, see

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