Oenophile's Corner-The Wines of Italy

I don’t know anything about wine, so I thought I’d write a wine column. Isn’t that what we learn at HBS?-to have an opinion about something we know relatively little about? According to Mark Twain, “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” Well, since I have plenty of ignorance about wine, let me give you my opinion.
Actually I needed help, so I invited five friends over for dinner. They don’t know anything about wine either, but since they’re all HBS students too it doesn’t matter. Most importantly, we all love wine, and isn’t that enough? Deborah Stowe at the new Bread & Circus was kind enough to suggest four bottles. The theme: Italy. We dined over a fine meal of focaccia and spinach risotto with goat cheese prepared by Dana Soiman (OJ), and we put each of the bottles in paper bags to make our best blind assessment. No one knew they were all Italian, and that was a point of contention.

Xavier Paternot (OJ) explained we should always begin with white wine. Well, okay. So we began with 1999 Pinot Grigio from the Oltrepo Pavese region Italy. The wine is produced by Barone exclusively for Bread and Circus. This got the highest overall rating from the group (1.5), yet it was the cheapest bottle we drank at $9.99 (on sale for $7.99). My friend Mardie Oakes (OH) sitting across from me at Carberry’s in Central Square said, “See, that’s why I just buy the wine with the coolest looking bottle.” Some people think that if you pay more, you get a better wine. Not necessarily true. Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to my parents’ box wine? However, five out of six of us are red wine snobs, so it says something that a white wine got our highest rating. Richard Linder (OH) described it as “a pear that bites you,” whatever that means. And Dana Soiman was sure that it was Italian: “It is sweet and light, but a long way from Rome.” Everyone agreed that is started smooth, but ended with a bite. “How do you say, ‘it stings you’?” asked Philia Hiotis (OJ).
We moved onto the second white wine-a 2000 Princepessa Gavia from the Cortese di Gavi grape ($13.99). Still no one knew they were all Italian. “It’s French!” Xavier was sure, but everything is French to him. After a second sip, he changed his tune to “a bit boring actually, and fizzy.” It was no longer French, for sure. Elena Pirondini (OE), our resident Italian, could only find one adjective-boring-and added, “I am sure this is not Italian.” Well, the two Americans at the table didn’t want to claim it either -a matter of national pride. All Richard could muster was, “It’s like dead Sprite.”

Ah, finally, we arrived at the red wines, and everyone was happy. “White wine drinkers are bad lovers,” Richard pointed out as we poured a 1998 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico by Mazzei ($24.99). Xavier was again sure of its origin, “Spanish! It is harsh, has a lot of sun.” Dana agreed, “Definitely Spanish,” as she tried to cheat by peeking at the label. Everyone thought it was a Rioja from Spain. People liked it quite a bit but no one thought it was Italian. “Oak, sandalwood, and cinnamon,” were the words people used to describe this red wine, which was actually my
favorite of the bunch. I am partial to big reds though.

We didn’t end the meal quite right. I had high hopes for the 1995 Borgo Pretale Chianti Classico ($16.99), but it fell flat. Dana thought it was vulgar. Xavier added, “It tastes like the headache you have with a hangover,” and believed it was a cheap Italian wine. Elena compared it to vinegar and said it was definitely not Italian. “Maybe it’s Chilean?” Philia wondered. I tried to get people to describe it better, but no one wanted to finish sipping it. We turned to Ben & Jerry’s for relief.