The battles worth waging are ontological; they concern reality. The question to be asked of an incident, an object or a thought concerns its ratio of truth to disguise.
Like jazz or love, if you need to ask what “reality” means, you may never know. Maybe it’s just that force we recognize before words for it appear. It’s a new experience we appreciate instantly because it’s so old.
There is no disguise involved when I say I have never encountered wines that more clearly represent reality than those imported by Jeannie Rogers of Adonna Imports. If wine lives or dies for you according to its entertainment value – its skill at appeasing your consumerist fantasies – just keep passing ‘em on by. But if you accept that wine can make the spirit flesh, pay close attention.
Rogers works with small-scale producers primarily from Italy. The bottles, although adorned with lovely labels, don’t say “Chianti” or “Chardonnay” or “Tuscany,” or much of anything that’s very familiar. Yet the wines themselves are instantly lovable. They’re not brainiac/off-kilter. They taste terrific, but the terrific-ness stems from their home. Place, varietal, producer, together: Reality.
“When you go into a great vineyard,” Rogers said, “you can feel it … you see how the wines evolved, how the cuisine went hand in hand with it.”
It’s harder when you’re not in the vineyard. But real wines express that pulsing alive-ness in the glass, and the question is whether we can be awake for it when it arises. If we assert the possibility of that experience, then we are doing all we can.
Whether from a well-known region such as Piemonte or Lazio or an obscure one such as Oltrepo Pavese or Novara, each Adonna wine is crystalline in its distinctiveness and unabashed in its allegiance to place. It will express delicacy, charm and quiet. And I don’t know how else to put this, but it will feel natural for you and signal some sort of return.
“So many of us are isolated,” Rogers said. “With our jobs, our cars, our food, everything. We all want some sort of connection. I’m just looking for expressive wines from a particular place It’s not just about that wine, that bottle, that vintage. It’s never about the varietal. Wine isn’t static. Aromas evolve. They’re not a particular thing. Wines don’t taste ‘like Sauvignon Blanc’ or ‘like Chardonnay.’ They taste like themselves, and in real wines, this evolves every second.”
This emphasis might suggest you need to pay a premium for realness. But the opposite is true, thanks to a combination of obscure grapes and regions, winemakers in it for the love and an importer with little interest in living a plush life who realizes that the only way to get someone to try a Grignolino or Nosiola is to make it as wallet-friendly as possible.
“With the growth of (big retailers), it actually left more room for the small guys like us,” Rogers said, “because there are customers looking for the human connection and the direct link to culture, and these are the people I want to serve.”
I spoke of battles, but no more bellicosity. The non-real is there, and there are legitimate drinking desires it serves. Wines brought to us by Adonna (distributed in Maine by Wicked) and a handful of others serve other desires, and our world is richer for them.
Here’s a starter set:
Cincinnato Polluce 2010, $14: From the ancient nero buono grape, this buoyant medium-bodied red infuses an earthy profile with a pretty silkiness. Flavors of brewed black tea, black olive and Taleggio. The Castore, also $14, uses bellone, a widespread Roman grape, to make a very bright, mineral white with a lovely underlying creaminess.
Tenuta Migliavacca Grignolino 2010, $19: From the first certified biodynamic producer in Italy, this is the best introduction I can think of to what “natural” wine really tastes like: Wild and funky, but not imbalanced. Just alive, grippy, almost demanding attention. With extraordinary acidity, it sings with rare grilled tuna and/or grilled peppers.
Le Piane Maggiorina 2010, $22: A blend of nebbiolo, croatina (bonarda) and two other indigenous grapes, this is just pretty, exuding finesse. The roses and strawberries on the nose draw you into its world, and the dried cherries on the palate seal the deal. A 12-percent-alcohol love of your life.
Martilde Bonarda 2009, $16: What we so often hope for in Bordeaux, and so seldom find: Damp tobacco and cinnamon, evolving over an hour at dinner into cassis; a rich purity of dark fruit that condenses but never dulls; smooth, succulent and girded by ever gentler spicebox and dust. It starts excited, but grows into something unhurried.