Angelo Gaja was Mr. Barbaresco until 1988, when he purchased a vineyard on prime land in the heart of Italy's Barolo wine country. The Gaja family winery had made Barolo from purchased grapes (including that vineyard) until 1961, when a young Angelo convinced his father to go all-estate and build their reputation on Barbaresco, grown on their own land.
Back in 1993, when the ’89 Sperss came out, I acquired some in a mixed case of the Gaja reds. (Back then they were more affordable than they are now.) I drank several early on, but I pulled out the last one for a late dinner after a 6:30 p.m. symphony concert in San Francisco.
At first the idea was simple, to pull together an exhibition of wine-related architecture and design. But the more Henry Urbach thought about it, the more he was struck by how much wine had seeped into our culture. Urbach, curator of architecture and design for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), let the exhibition morph into something much broader. It opens Saturday and runs through April 27, 2011.
“How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now,” is not about bottles and labels, although they are part of it, nor is it about winery architecture or glass design, although those are in it too.
“It evolved into something that would allow the world of wine to become a mirror of our culture,” Urbach said as we walked through the exhibition space on the fifth floor of the museum across from Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. “I asked myself, ‘What is it about wine that it seems to connect with so much else in our culture?’”
It was a pleasant restaurant, specializing in the modern style of fresh-from-the-farm ingredients and unassuming food preparations. It should have been a comfortable experience. The wine list turned it into a puzzle.
I picked up the list and started leafing through it. I did not recognize a single wine. Given that I write about wine for a living, this does not happen often. On the other hand, more and more these days I draw a blank on so many unfamiliar names.
I don't know how old the bottle was. It had to be at least 12 years old, probably more like 15. I looked at it in dismay as I pulled it out of the refrigerator. I just wanted to drink something celebratory with my wife and daughter after Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz for the final out of the 2010 World Series last Monday night. But like a veteran ballplayer, old fizz can surprise.
Brian Walsh, chief winemaker for Yalumba winery, thought he had a surefire product for a U.K. market besotted with Italian Pinot Grigio. His new Pinot Grigio was made in a style more associated with wines labeled as Pinot Gris, as the same grape is known throughout most of the rest of the world. It had lively balance and more tangy citrus and melon flavors than most Italian examples, which can taste surprisingly similar to water.
"They said it was too flavorsome," he recalled over lunch last week in Napa. "They would not buy it."
Which raises the question: What's in a name? In the New World, most vintners tend to use Grigio on their labels for light, crisp styles similar to Italian bottling, Gris for fuller-bodied, darker-hued wines such as those Alsace produces.
There is a connection between the San Francisco Giants' World Series win and the lesser known wine regions highlighted at this past weekend's Wine Spectator New World Wine Experience in Las Vegas—both have been underestimated underdogs.