Exultet, a Fiano without smoke (2): A vertical tasting
Today we conclude our very interesting conversation with Luigi Moio, a professor of enology, a great winemaker and producer in his own right.
Doctor Wine: Quintodecimo is not an organic estate.
Luigi Moio: ‘Organic’ is not an appropriate term in regard to wine and, anyway, alcoholic fermentation is an organic, biological process. The expression ‘biological struggle’, in its true sense, refers to the relationship between the predator and its prey, between the cat and the mouse or the lion and a zebra. At Quintodecimo the vineyards are true gardens in which each plant is cared for in the minimal detail in order to obtain the best fruit and this is done without using products that can harm the plant, man or the environment and no herbicides nor fertilizers are used. The land is maintained using mechanical means, along with significant man power, and the fertility of the soil is maintained using other plant growth, tilling and green manuring. In winegrowing it is more appropriate to refer to sustainability. And that’s the bottom line; environmental sustainability is a very serious and important thing. And sustainable agriculture, for example, also means using select yeasts. Using the right yeasts and at a high temperature you can save the energy needed for cooling, which means you are polluting the environment less. Vice versa, with yeasts that ferment perfectly at a low temperature it is not necessary to waste energy to warm it up in cool places. There are many more examples of how bio-technology can contribute to environmental sustainability. And then, it is not true that ‘organic’ necessarily means ‘clean’. Mycotoxins are among the most harm molecules to human health and are natural products! And do you know what the basic problem is?
DW: Tell me.
LM: That a profound anti-scientific mentality exists in Italy. And few people do the job they are supposed to.
DW: Everyone talks about wine technology being excessively influential, but isn’t there a bit of wrong with enologists, glass in hand, hobnobbing with wine and food journalists?
LM: I don’t know how far that is true. It is nice to exchange ideas and opinions and it needs to be done. But often the Italian wine and food press does not limit itself to sensorial descriptions of a wine, as they do in France. Perhaps it is a question of humility. Often things here get a little, too, ideological.
DW: Many tasters tend to connect a particular natural expressiveness to certain wines that are the product of non-invasive winegrowing and winemaking. Is there any way one can in the winery ‘construct’ products that are naturally expressive?
LM: ‘Invasive’ means making substantial modifications. A good enologist must assist the winemaking process and help the grape become wine, limiting any anthropic intervention. Nevertheless, the vineyard does not put the wine into the bottle and grapes need to be carefully treated, allowing their simple and natural transformation into wine. It is essential to absolutely avoid any abnormal deviation which can depauperate, degrade or disguise with aromatic defects the expressive purity of the grape. Aromatic defects, unfortunately, are allowed lowest level the world over even though they totally eliminate any connection with the grape’s origin.
DW: Does this mean that enologists need critics in the press? Where does the line stop?
LM: Critics should not get too involved because many questions are very difficult even for expert enologists. There are a lot of variables in winemaking. A journalist should limit himself to informing without bias or ideology. Tasting should be something simple and never become folkloristic. What I always say is this: tasting is not like describing the face of a person, in which case if one is not precise in the description, perhaps by omitting a detail, it would still be possible to identify the person in a crowd. In describing the sensorial characteristics of a wine, on the other hand, one has to be very precise, using few descriptive terms and only those that are objectively evident. It is useless to hypothesize on the work that was done in the vineyard and the winery.
DW: And so it becomes indispensable to create an educational wine language, one that explains wine in depth without getting too scientific. Is this possible?
LM: It is my dream. But the only ones who can do it must have a clear knowledge of the scientific research. Unfortunately, those who profess the knowledge are rarely the researchers themselves, also because in Italy there are no such career opportunities.
DW: Many tasters tend to connect the best winemaking areas to the mineral note a wine has. A Syrah from McLaren is produced from an intensely dark fruit. Is that also not the favor of the terroir?
LM: For sure. A terroir is not just the soil. It also involves the climate, the microclimate, exposure to the sun and man’s intervention. It is also the vegetation that surrounds the vineyard. The term ‘mineral’ was born in Alsace, essentially to describe certain notes in a Riesling which, as you know, are similar to a note of kerosene., caused most by the presence of 1,1,6 trymethyl-1,2 dihydroaphalene (TDN). The term was then adopted in Burgundy and is often used to refer to the aroma of flint. The most known flint is pyrite which is a common sulfide mineral, an aroma that in a wine gives the classic note of it being ‘reduced’. Thus the note of pierre à fusil, which I remember from my years in Burgundy, generally refers to a wine’s minerality, which is nothing more than the aroma of a slight reduction and it does indeed recall the smell of a ferrous soil. Naturally, such notes immersed in the aromatic richness of a Chardonnay or, in Alsace, a Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Muscat are extremely pleasing. In Italy, there is a lot of confusion over minerality. Minerals are the primary ingredient of the Earth’s crust, they are almost all solid at room temperature and appear as crystals. In the strictest sense, no wine tastes like its soil, given that minerals are volatile and thus have no odor. The odor one senses in smelling a stone, like one from the sea, is the product of organic contamination. Sulfur, in fact, is a non-metal that has no odor or flavor. Its most common and known form is that of an intense, bright-yellow crystal. Only after combustion, its interaction with oxygen, does it produce sulfur dioxide which has a distinct odor. Would you like to know something?
LM: In a study carried out by French researchers in Burgundy that focused on understanding how experts defined the characteristics of minerality, and they was a total consensus in the findings, if came out that there was no single sensorial definition and thus it could not be used as a description. Thus its sensorial meaning is not clear at all, even if it remains a very trendy term. It probably has more to do with an almost physical relationship with where it came from. I also use the term but associate it more with acidity, sensorial purity to the extreme, especially in regard to white wines. The uncontaminated purity of a mineral that can defy time. A wine with mineral notes is, for me, a wine that is very pure and uncontaminated, one in which the decline of the aroma is slowed down to the utmost and the life of the wine, one in which it is possible to recognized the sensorial characters of the grape and, in the case of a cru, is extended in time as much as possible.
The tasting that follows is of Fiano di Avellino Exultet, a cru produced exclusively with grapes from a vineyard of only Fiano in Lapio. The wine is fermented 70% in steel and 30% in new oak barriques.