Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Painted Walls of Dozza
In a region dotted with perfect hilltop villages, Dozza stands out. It's a given that the view from its tower would extend across the vineyards and north to the Alps, almost a no-brainer that the 30-year-old Enoteca Regionale dell'Emilia-Romagna would be located within the Rocca Sforzesca (fortress) itself. But what makes Dozza unique is its biennial festival of the painted wall, when artists are invited to express themselves directly on the ancient doors, alley ways, arches, and public passages of the tiny village.
As for the Enoteca, it's an administrative center for hundreds of participating wineries as well as a well-stocked showcase and well-run wine bar that's open to the public. Yes, there's a knowledgeable sommelier on hand (800 labels, after all, not to mention olive oil, balsamic vinegar and grappa!) They face the same challenges as industry associations everywhere: representing growers with a dizzying number of grape varieties and wine styles, defending Emilia-Romagna's 18 DOC and DOCG appellations, even as legislation later this decade sweeps all the traditional nomenclature into DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin). There's optimism that the new DOP (already in use for agricultural products) will simplify matters; we hope so. Every provincial subzone of the region clings passionately to its traditions, reluctant to compromise "authenticity" with innovation, even when it's clear (to an outsider) that there's too much, say, lightly sparkling lambrusco and malvasia and not enough full-bodied barbera and bonarda. But the market for wine throughout Italy is defined by its local food, and Emilia-Romagna is no different. The prosciutto and coppa of Parma, one cannot deny, are absolutely delightful with lambrusco; the castrato (gelded lamb) of Romagna finds its perfect match with the light-bodied sangiovese grown nearby.
Campanilismo, what we'd call provincialism, is alive and well here, frustrating as hell most of the time, yet providing the reassurance of a foot planted firmly in the past. The Enoteca Regionale sponsored my trip to Italy as part of an effort to communicate the vast improvement in local wines. No argument, even though it sometimes seems their drive for quality is at odds with the very system they're promoting.