5StarWines–The Book 2019

Chairperson’s report by Monty Waldin 02 June 2019

One of the most encouraging aspects of this year’s 5Star Wines The Book blind wine tasting competition from an Italian perspective was how well many of the wines from co-operative wineries fared. Right across the board from Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto in the north, to Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia in the south.

Historically Italy’s cooperatives have found themselves – like their peers in other European countries – in the invidious situation of needing to generate cashflow by supplying base wines in bulk to independent, privately owned producers and merchant-blenders who quite rightly have no substantive interest in acknowledging the source of the wine publicly when their focus is consolidating the building of their own brand and margins.

And worse, the private producers (and dare I say my fellow commentators in the media) can often be rather dismissive about the very concept of the co-operative model, arguing that the winemaking is akin to making soup, whereby everything goes into the pot, nullifying wine’s most cherished shibboleth, namely terroir expression.

But this argument falls down when we remember that the virtue of soup is that it often does contain a range of flavors precisely because of the range of ingredients within.

Likening onions, carrots, peas and so on to say Corvina, Rondinella, Oseleta, and Corvinone may seem strange but is indubitably valid.

And blending Corvina, Rondinella, Oseleta, and Corvinone grapes from say a dozen co-operative producers provides potentially nearly fifty lots to work with, assuming of course the co-operative has the fermentation space.

Another reason in favour of co-operatives (President Trump, please look away now…) is climate change. This is challenging everyone, and everything we take for granted, from the availability of our customary foodstuffs in the shops or even the availability of the train we usually hope to catch to go to work.

Disrupted transport services apply to grapes, too. If sap movement in the vine phloem stops because of extreme heat and dryness this compromises the crop in terms of both quality and potential yield. The ability co-operative wine-growers have to share fixed costs in times of uncertainty – historically political uncertainly, now climatical – is a comforting advantage, if not of course a panacea.

Editing the tasting notes for the 5 Star Wines The Book winners can be both a trauma and a pleasure. Let me explain, by starting with the pleasure.

The pleasure is having a truly international panel of judges. This is the only way Italy, or any other wine producing country can measure itself against international yardsticks for wine quality, wine style, and value for money.

Not only does 5 Star Wines The Book attract globally renowned Masters of Wine and Sommeliers as judges, it also reels in viticulturists and oenologists as well as marketing, branding and sales experts. The mix of judges therefore means each wine not only gets tasted by different palates, but also by minds whose interpretations can be as diverse as they are synergistic regarding styling, value for money, or terroir expression.

This diversity is important in an international competition whose wines are drawn from both hemispheres, not just Italy, and with wines from 17 countries in total.

The trauma comes with trying to distill the several individual tasting notes each wine generates into a single note that perfectly represents each 5 Star wine on its own merits.

But words are no substitute for tasting the wines yourselves, of course.