In 1982, the great Italian food and wine writer and editor Luigi Veronelli took three of Italy’s greatest winemakers at the time to California.
One of them was from the Collio appellation in Friuli. One of them was from the Franciacorta appellation in Lombardy. And one of them was from Barbera d’Asti.
According to an essay that Veronelli published in his landmark 1983 edition of the Catalogo dei Vini d’Italia (Guide to the Wines of Italy), the four of them landed in Los Angeles and went to eat the first night at Wolfgang Puck’s famous Spago restaurant on the Sunset Strip.
The next night, they ate at Valentino in Santa Monica near the beach. At the time, Valentino had what was arguably the best Italian wine list in the U.S. And owner and wine director Piero Selvaggio received them gladly.
They were planning to head north to California wine country. And they asked for Piero’s help in setting up appointments with winemakers. They also wanted to visit the University of California Davis (UC Davis) campus: The university’s school of enology was already quite famous and they were eager to learn more about California’s then booming wine community and culture.
As Veronelli recounts in his essay, they were impressed with the Americans’ technology and their love of barrique-aged wines. At that time in Italy, most red wines were vinified in cement or large cask and they were all aged in large cask. The Americans were making their reds in stainless-steel tanks and aging them in barriques — small casks made using toasted French oak. The top wines were always aged in new casks and the used casks were often discarded and/or used for secondary winemaking tasks.
The winemaker from Barbera d’Asti returned to his appellation and famously began aging his Barbera in barriques. He was among the first do so in Italy and arguably the first to do it in Barbera d’Asti. His wines became immensely successful.
A lot of people have told and heard this story. But what a lot of people don’t know or realize is that the group of winemakers, including the one from Barbera d’Asti, were also among the first in Italy to start using stainless-steel tanks for vinfication and aging.
In our next post, I’ll look at why the stainless steel revolution was just as important — if not more important — than the barrique revolution in Italy. You might be surprised by what I have to say.