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What Slow Wine can teach us about drinking thoughtfully

Crowds at the New York stop of the 2016 Slow Wine tour. (Photo Credit: Burntmyfingers blog)

Throngs mob wine producers at the New York stop of the 2016 Slow Wine tour. (Photo Credit: Burntmyfingers blog)

Unless you’ve been in a cryogenic chamber for 20 years, it’s likely that at some point in your own personal culinary journey, you’ve heard of the massive international movement called Slow Food. And, if you’ve followed that movement with even mild interest, you probably know about its subsets: Slow Fish, Slow Meat and Slow Cheese. It was only a matter of time before Slow Wine (and its adjunct magazine) emerged.

Slow Wine has, to be fair, been around in Europe for several years. Recently — in the United States, anyway — the organization responsible for everything Slow has been working towards rolling out a Slow Wine in North America. This effort, like all its others, serves some pretty lofty principles.

Like any agricultural product, there is room in wine discourse to tackle important issues of sustainability and access. To quote the organization, “wine is just like any of the foods we eat, and has an impact on the lives of the people who produce it, as well as on the environment – through pesticides, herbicides and excessive water consumption, which are all commonplace in conventional wine production.”

In the shadow of last November’s United Nations COP 21 environmental discussions in Paris, and in the context of a climate that continues to change quickly, the February 2016 Slow Wine stop in New York (the fifth year of this global tour and the kick-off to Vino 2016–Italian wine week in NYC) served as an important milestone. Slow Wine, like its other sister movements, is coming into its own, confirmed simply by the fact that more than 70 producers showcased their wares to a burgeoning crowds ravenous for the best of small, artisanal Italian wine producers using their region’s indigenous varietals. Italy alone has over 500 such varietals — and that’s a conservative number.

Gianluca Viberti

Winemaker and owner of 460 Cascina Bric, Gianluca Viberti

It was easy to get swept up in the excitement of so many people, enjoying that many wines, surrounded by passionate Italians and delicious salumi, formaggi, pizza and pasta. But life is, ultimately, meaningless if we don’t take the time to reflect.

In that sense, the Slow Wine 2016 tour was (and is) reaffirmation that at no point in human history has it ever been a more promising time to be a wine drinker. The regions from which wines now come are exhaustive and the selection virtually limitless. But that also comes with a need to be responsible. It is incumbent upon all of us to replace those generic bulk-production wines that insidiously become defaults in our lives — for whatever reasons — with something more thoughtfully produced.

No doubt, economics plays a big part in choosing the former over the latter, but if these 70 producers have proven anything, it’s that there is no substitute for good wine produced with love. Each of the bottles, and the wine therein, reflects the vineyard ownership, the vineyard terroir and the history of the grape and the area from which it comes. And, if it comes with the Slow Wine stamp, it is also a reflection of the responsible stewardship practices used by these producers. It’s hard to argue with that.

A few personal highlights from Slow Food 2016 in New York, included:

Giuseppe Vajra

Winemaker, Giuseppe Vaira

Agricole Vallone’s 2011 Vigna Castello — a blend of 70% Negroamaro and 30% Susumaniello, both indigenous to the Puglia region of Italy, with the former the better-known of the two varietals. CEO Francesco Vallone poured this delicious wine and I was captivated by its depth, freshness and balance.

Azienda Agricola Vajra 2012 Langhe Freisa Kyè — Freisa is a lesser known variety found in Piedmont, a relative of Nebbiolo, but one that flies under the radar except for wine drinkers in the know. Owner Giuseppe Vaira poured me a taste of his 2012 juice and it’s deep, dark and delicious. Put it on your to-drink list. In fact, put anything from the Vajra winery on your to-drink list!

460 Cascina Bric 2011 Rosso Ansj’ — The dapper Piemontese winemaker Gianluca Viberti (pictured in the middle of this story) poured both his 2010 Barolo as well as a lovely 2011 blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, which he’s dubbed the Rosso Ansj’.  The Barolo was big, powerful and (as I noted on my pad with one word) “outstanding!,” but I found the Rosso Ansj’ more immediately approachable, welcoming, even a bit playful. I would drink copious amounts of it if I were able to get my hands on it! He’s currently on the lookout for a distributor.

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