Il linguaggio del vino
The Language of Wine
The warm days of early November –- known as Indian summer in the United States –- are called “l’estate di San Martino” (the summer of St. Martin) in Italy. Wine producers (produttori di vini) celebrate the saint's feast on November 11 by uncorking the vino novello (new wine) from the recent vendemmia (grape harvest) and getting the first preview of the year’s vintage (annata). As an Italian saying puts it, “Per San Martino, cadono le foglie e si spilla il vino." (For St. Martin, the leaves fall, and the wine is tapped.)
In September my husband and I visited several wineries (cantine) as the grapes were being picked. At the NostraVita winery in the gorgeous Val d’Orcia, we spent a day with Annibale Parisi, a true Renaissance man whose passions extend from art to natural history to wine. As we walked through his vineyard (vigneto), he told me that he “listens” to every vine (vite) and responds to its needs. The results show in the robust health of each grape (uva) — thick skin (buccia dell’uva), moist pulp (polpa) and firm brown seeds (vinaccioli). Annibale hand-paints every label (etichetta) in four colors: reddish-brown for the earth, black for hard work, red for passion, white for the sun.
We arrived at Poggio Grande in nearby San Quirico d’Orcia just as bunches (grappoli) of freshly picked grapes were going through the first steps of sorting, trimming of stems (raspi) and maceration (macerazione). “We do everything by hand,” says Giulitta Zamperini, the fourth generation of her family to make wines. She offered us a special treat: glasses of must (mosto), the grape juice that will eventually be transformed into wine, straight from the vat.
At Le Chiuse (above), an azienda agricola (an estate that grows grapes and produces its own wine) in Montalcino, another family–Nicolo' Magnelli, his wife Simonetta and their son Lorenzo–balances innovation with tradition, including long soaks before and after fermentation (fermentazione) in stainless steel vats. The aging process (invecchiamento) for its signature Brunello continues in barrels (botti) for three years until the wine is ready to be poured into bottles (bottiglie) and sealed with corks (tappi).
Farther north in the Chianti region, at Lorenza and Marco Pallanti's fairy-tale tenuta (estate) of Castello di Ama, we found lush vineyards and a dazzling collection of contemporary art. Over the last fifteen years distinguished artists from around the world have captured their sense of this special place in striking creations — including a wall of mirrors overlooking the countryside, a neon light installation in a wine cellar and a cauldron of iridescent red light in a centuries-old chapel.
“There’s a kind of competition with the artists,” says Marco, a French-trained winemaker (enologo) whose vintages have earned spectacular ratings and reviews. “They inspire me to make wines at the same level as their art. Wine and art have the same judge: time. It’s relatively easy to make a wine or a piece of art that seems good because it’s new. But we want to create something that will last beyond us and carry the Castello into the future for centuries to come.”
Every visit ended with a tasting (degustazione) that taught us another aspect of viticulture (viticoltura): how to describe the wines we were sampling. Here are some of the terms we learned:
Amabile -– semi-sweet
Ampio -– ample, rich, complex
Corposo –- full-bodied
Dolce -– sweet
Frizzante –- effervescent, fizzy
Intenso –- intense in aroma, color or flavor
Leggero –- lightweight, low in alcohol
Pieno –- full-bodied, rich
Robusto –- robust, full-bodied
Secco -– dry
Tannico –- rich in tannins
Vinoso –- fresh and fruity
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.
Click below for a brief tour of Castello di Ama: