The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Travels in Italy, vol. 67: Daniele Piccinin

I had five minutes to kill. Daniele was driving to meet me, it turns out from diagonally across the street. I went into a little shop selling local food to locals, meats and cheeses and stale biscuits… they were not great, but I ate them. I grunted and pointed, and bought a bunch of stuff. Fresh off the plane, I could not access even the rudimentary Italian that I garble to communicate. Staring. Silence. Eventual cold comprehension. Now I own a hunk of old cheese the size of a tablet PC.  

Why go shopping? Attack of the food was about to begin, and by this stage in my career I should know to fast and hide, not seek out optional calories. Within the hour Daniele and his wife had funneled food sufficient for a week into my belly: truffle risotto, gnocci (made by grandma, Daniele cooked the rest,) cotichino (a fresh sausage made of pig skin and other grizzly bits) a stale bread-black pepper gravy, capone, cheeses, homemade fresh bread, probably dessert, but honestly my food brain’s storage capacity maxed out sometime after the chicken showed up. No unforced meals is a maxim I live by while traveling to Italian farms. It’s about survival.

The groceries would remain a weight to haul through Italy, Slovenia, Austria and beyond for many days. As I left the shop, unwise purchases in arms, Daniele pulled up with his dad. They live together in a big normal building above a small cellar (they have two other cellars close to the family vineyards, and wish to build a new place up there, in the high hills among their seven hectares of vines, a spot where they can live and do all the winemaking under one roof. It’s a dream for now. At their current residence in the village of San Giovanni Illarone on the Alpone river, I met bunches of Piccinins: brothers, kids, wives and partners. I couldn’t determine who belongs where and to whom, and it doesn’t matter. A genial lot. Daniele has a charmingly shy one-year-old daughter, a sweet quiet kid attached to mama’s shoulder because a strange man was in her house. During the 12 days of Christmas, I think this big family hang around together a lot. At the right moment in the lunar calendar, this year beginning this year on January 10th, dozens of Piccinins will make sausages in a multi-day party of pig deconstruction. Specific tasks belong to each, with Daniele as overseer/meat quality analyst. He used to be a chef, which shows in his risotto.

I really need to write about Daniele. He has unwavering dedication to making healthy wine by farming in the correct way. His methods reach well beyond basic organic agriculture. Daniele is discovering the right path for his estate, sure of the goal he’s aiming for but absolutely eyes wide open in his daily approach.  He recognizes and speaks frankly about failures, and freely admits that making real wine where he lives is a path not a recipe. “Durella is an oxidative grape, and we are making it with little sulfur (to stop oxidation.)This is why they are making more sparkling wine now: carbon dioxide slows oxidation. “Additions kill the flavor of the wine, so we avoid them. Durella is a grape that has the capacity to age really well, the root word means hard, because the grape has a lot of Malic acid.”  Daniele is still working on how to optimally shape their indigenous grape, and I’m still working on how to talk about it. With lunch the wine is just so good, satisfying, it’s a presence in the room. Daniele talks about how the wine makes drinkers feel, healthy, he thinks this focus will promote natural unmanipulated wines effectively. I hope so, even if I’m more skeptical. Getting a swath of drinkers to appreciate a wine whose appeal is slow to reveal, a drink with no big, flashy simple-to-define stock flavors in the foreground: I must work at this a bit.

The best wine of our lunch was the 2012 Muni Quattroventi frizzante Durella. 1,000 bottles made, with no sulfur, no sugar, and spontaneous yeast for the fermentation. Daniele dries the grapes until February, they hang in vertical racks like Corvina does in near-ish Valpolicella. Muni is a place, the small area where Daniele’s father was born and where they hope to build a new home one day.  
The 2013 Bianco di Muni tastes too young. It will be bottled in April, and I’m glad we still have some 2011 in our N.C. warehouse. 2013 was a better vintage than 2011, but the wine needs years in bottle to wake up.

The 2013 Rosso di Muni is a blend of Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. It is clean and bright, an expression of the high elevation calcerous fields where the vines grow. Daniele is fond of planting massale selections of vines, and will soon have a new vineyard to use, planted on the volcanic soils of the east side of his valley.

Daniele makes a selection of pure Durella called Montemagno. It comes from the best sites, from 50 to 70 year-old vines. Only 300 hectares of Durella are planted in Italy, and I believe we work with both biodynamic producers of this variety.  

I’m considering a long detour back for sausage day. It sounds festive, if a little messy. I leave with confidence of this estate’s direction. Daniele can talk at length about his work, the perspective that informs his farming. Confidence without hubris.


At 1:30 AM, Blogger Lil house in the 'burbs said...

Jay, a great read!

I am trying to get in contact with Daniele Piccinin and am struggling to find contact details for him. Are you able to assist me with this at all? Please email me direct.


Jason Piccinin


Post a Comment

<< Home