Of all the thousands of wines to drink in the midwest there is nothing to compare with Schiava.
It’s a red wine, but so pale that it is actually lighter in color than some rosé wines. The usual reference point for sensually light reds is Beaujolais, but even that doesn’t include anything relatable to this. 2013 Cembra Schiava is very pale, slightly tart and dusted with decidedly ripe tannins however remote they are. Emanating from this broad and delicate framework are compelling botanical essences reminiscent of nutmeg, pepper, rhubarb and goji berries. The finish is entirely dry which makes it outrageously drinkable.
Cembra is a cooperative defined by its elevation, the highest of all Italian wines. Schiava has been documented in the region for 900 years, enough time apparently for selection pressure to produce a fruit uniquely adapted to its extreme location. One of its most productive clones – Schiava Grossa – migrated north through Germany where it became known as Trollinger, a corruption of the German word for Tyrolean, Tyrolinger. Cembra Schiava includes Schiava Grossa as well as Schiavas Gentile, Grigia, and Meranese.
Tom’s Wine Line suggests serving it with Speck (See the Bismarck.)
On one hand “Chianti” is a precisely defined term. On the other hand it has been used globally and for so long that it can mean quite different things to different people: Italianesque red wine; fiascos wrapped in straw; ukelele music dappled in the canopy of an acacia; an essential pairing with liver and fava beans.
The expansion of Chianti’s geographical limits within Tuscany in 1932 allowed for the growth of its global mass market. Supported by abundant supply, the term entered the vernacular and became a floating signifier. Chianti became a symbol for Italianness and soon bottlers in other countries would exploit the appeal by producing their own “Chianti” inspired wines.
The success of any global brand with the longevity of Chianti is always cyclical.
A quick attempt to discover the etymology of the Sicilian grape variety known as Inzolia yielded these google translations from Latin:
in sol ia = the sun is
in solia = throne
insolia = SUN
Drink the sun.
The perpetual search for wine value provides us with certain patterns. One of them is this: use an established wine for which global demand has distorted the value – every era has them – and explore the viticultural margins for substitutes. So Classed Growth Bordeaux gave us Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. So Napa Cabernet Sauvignon gave us Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Etc. etc.
During one of our latter day Chardonnay crazes the market seemed as if it could absorb no limit of the full-bodied, nutty, tree-fruit flavored liquid. And while farmers everywhere planted more Chardonnay vines, there remained thousands of isolated local cultivars which could be caused to resemble something similar. You might even say some of these exemplified an ideal of Chardonnay better than poorly planned Chardonnay could.
And without the word Chardonnay on the label, these were virtually immune from inflationary price bubbles.
Before refrigeration the best way to preserve much of the wine grown in a hot place like Sicily was to fortify it with neutral spirits. In Sicily we call this traditional style of wine Marsala, and among the grapes cultivated for the purpose is Inzolia. But with a stagnant market for traditional fortified wines and a booming market for Pouilly Fuisse, the logical move was to spend some money on modern refrigeration and bring Pouilly Fuisse temperatures to Sicily. Voila: varietal Inzolia table wine.
But careful. The pressure to create a simulated Chardonnay can have all sorts of negative consequences for the drink. Any cosmetic intervention runs the risk of distorting the native humor of a grape. Enologists and their clients can lose the plot in the focus on marketable details.
So, if Inzolia doesn’t want to be Chardonnay, what does it want to be?