Wine notes

Monday 7 March 2011


After a two-year wait and much speculation about its format and style, the new Italian wine guide Slow Wine was finally launched in October with the 2011 edition - this after publisher the Slow Food organisation terminated its collaboration with Gambero Rosso on the Vini d’Italia guide.

During a press conference last April at Vinitaly, Italy’s and arguably the world’s largest wine fair, editors Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni announced the forthcoming launch of the guide to a packed auditorium, and called it an ‘emotional moment’. Although not a single direct reference to the conflicts in the past with Daniele Cernilli of Gambero Rosso, which had led to the split, was made at any time, it was clear that Slow Wine would be different, the starting point being ‘let’s do something new!’ The contrast between the two guides could hardly be greater.

According to the editors, it is not so much Italian wine that has changed in the recent past, but the role of the oenologists, with a noticeable shift away from the cellar and into the vineyard. In other words, terroir is becoming more and more important in Italy, and Slow Wine wants to put this on the record. While it was stressed at Vinitaly that a big part of the guide would be determined by tasting, the focus would lie at least as much on the producers themselves. To this end, a substantial national network of teams was established to carry out more than 2,000 visits, scrutinising cellars and, much more importantly, vineyards, followed by in-depth discussions with every single producer, whenever possible tasting more than the current vintage available on the market.

This represents quite a change from the conventional clinical tasting-room set-up where wines are judged anonymously and under blind conditions. The logical consequence of this approach, nothing less than a revolution in the wine-guide business, was that the classical scoring system, be it scores, stars, or glasses, was made redundant. Still, without criteria to assess the quality of an estate as opposed to its produce, the work could not have been executed, according to Giavedoni. Within the ‘judging process’ there were three fundamental criteria: the actual taste of the wines; their perceived value for money; and the third, most complicated, criterion, the quality of the entire estate, its philosophy and its work processes. Both editors had stressed in April that the guide would not be about ‘organics’, but ‘about serious producers dedicating themselves to terroir’. However, the actual guide’s emphasis on exactly this aspect is impossible to overlook.

Thick as a bible, on the thinnest possible and, needless to say, sustainable paper, Slow Wine’s first edition runs to more than 1,200 pages. It includes profiles of 1,850 producers and estates and describes 8,400 wines from an initial 21,000 tasted, and could well become the standard lexicon for the ‘New Italy’. It introduces each wine-producing region, followed by producers’ profiles. Each producer profile includes the size of the estate, the number of bottles produced, a brief separate overview of the way of working in the vineyard, the producer’s philosophy and a description of the wines tasted. But the most important aspect, and undeniably connected to the Slow Food values and objectives, is a precise listing for each producer stating what sorts of fertilisers and treatments are used on the vines, whether weedkillers are used, if the wines were fermented by natural or selected yeast, and whether the grapes stem from the estate’s own vineyards or not.

But not even Slow Wine can completely refrain from some kind of scoring system, if only to reward with a ‘Chiociola’, the Slow Food Snail, the producers who have impressed the most in the way the have interpreted certain values that are central to Slow Food: the quality and taste of the wines, respect for terroir and environment, and the expression of identity. Of about 150 Chiocioli, not a single one is awarded to a producer using conventional farming methods.

Wines that clearly reflect their terroir, history and environment get a ‘Vino Slow’ award. And while most Italian wine guides use rather vague price bands, all wines described in Slow Wine come with an exact price tag, as well as an indication whether the producer sells directly to the consumer. Tellingly, at first glance all producers described in the guide do so.

With overview maps of each region, producers organised regionally and within each region alphabetically, there are additional columns discussing topics including grape variety and subzone descriptions, producer portraits, discussions on certain relevant publications and viticultural philosophies, as well as an overview at the end of each regional chapter listing the most important DOCs with their varietal makeup, there is genuinely little left to be desired. Slow Wine guide seems to have managed admirably well the balancing act of putting the spotlight on terroir-driven wines produced using organic methods without forsaking conventional producers.

The only thing that I couldn’t help noticing both during the press conference in May and now while looking through the impressive list of collaborators, is how very few women are part of the guide, something that looks rather conventional.

Except for this, Slow Wine is a true labour of love, and one can only hope that the English translation as well as the smart-phone application promised in April will be available soon.

Go attend the SLow Wine App launch and tasting go to

Labels: , , ,