Day 15- Dettori: Perfectly Imperfect
Whitney Adams is a LA girl and the author of Brunellos Have More Fun. I’m jealous she saw Dettori and I didn’t.
June 9th, 2010: Bari, Puglia —> Cagliari, Sardinia by plane. A day of sea and sand and too much liquore di mirto. Dawn the next day: Cagliari, Sardinia —> Sassari, Sardinia by train (and a very infrequent bus I almost missed because I fell asleep.)
Finally, I arrived to the Sassari stazione in the midday heat and blinding sun. It was a scorcher that day. I squinted. And made a fan out of notebook paper. And I waited. For what? For a man. I traveled to Sardinia to see a man. That man was Alessandro Dettori. He was running behind. He had been in the hospital visiting his wife- who gave birth to their first child, a daughter, the night before. And he was still coming to pick my ass up? Yes, so it goes. With a general feeling of “I am not worthy,” into the car and off to the vineyard we went!After some winding roads and chit chat, we emerged from the car in Badde Nigolosu. Alessandro is young…youthful. Passionate and intelligent. He was excited to show me his land, his farm and his wines. Incredibly proud to be a Sardinian. Sardinian- not Italian. Those are two very different things. The soil creeped into my weathered sandals. This felt like a happy place. As silly as that may sound. We stood in the Dettori cru where the vines have reached 139 years of age; a number that is hard for me to even wrap my brain around. Alessandro began working these vineyards and making wine with his grandfather when he was 12 years old. He continues to make wine as his grandfather did, with minimal interference. And to make a “simple bottle on the table”…a “wine for food- 50 years ago there was no Gambero Rosso!” Although I doubt many people could say a Dettori wine is anything but simple. I would understand that in another hour’s time when I sat down for one of the best lunches I’ve ever had. We continued on and spoke of natural winemaking(“…this is not anything modern or new or future. It is the way it’s always been here.”), biodynamics (“Philosophy is for man- not nature.”) When pressed to define what he does, he considers himself to make honest wine…natural wine. “I make perfectly imperfect wine.” He says you can either “make wine or an alcoholic beverage. I make wine.” It’s OK if you make an alcoholic beverage, there is a place for everyone. No need to be angry or to compete. Sometimes his wife wants McDonald’s. Once a month, she has the McDonald’s. It’s OK. But, don’t make an alcoholic beverage and pretend it’s wine. We made our way eventually to the cellar and the family agriturismo. “I want to have a farm, not an office…with happy people.” Flashing back to my first moments stepping onto Dettori soil, I realize his mission may have been accomplished.
His cellar is a “simple cellar. Because me? I do nothing. I put only a beautiful label. Stop.”
He grabbed a 2000 Dettori Cannonau and said we should head up for lunch. By all means! On the way to the dining room, I met his father, mother and aunt. As well as Chef Piero and a few other cheery souls. I also met some of what would be our lunch…
Seats taken, it was time to get down to business.
Like the Sardinian landscape…and Sardinian people- these wines were intense. Intense in the most wonderful of ways. At 14.5-16% alcohol, they are powerful. And yet elegant in their intensity. I’ve never had a wine with such high alcohol that could also have a kind of delicacy and freshness. To sum up my notes on all of the wines- other than “holy hell” (the 2000 Dettori Cannonau) and “like some kind of church choir singing in harmony” (2005 Tenores Cannonau & maltagliati pasta with castrated sheep ragu)- they were a study in give and take, push and pull. There is structure without structure. Softness without softness. Fruit without forsaking the Earth. They are Badde Nigolosu. They are Sardinian. They are Dettori.
I asked Alessandro what his favorite wine was to drink. What is the bottle he opens most for himself? He said he wouldn’t tell me until the end of he meal. Well, our last wine was that wine. A passito wine, Chimbanta, made from monica di sardegna. He calls it “pirate wine”- this was the kind of wine what was shared around the table centuries ago in Sardinia. We toasted with his pirate wine as he raised his glass and said “A kent’annos!”, Sardinian dialect of the Italian “a cent’annos”…to your 100th year. Indeed. To us both! And in my 100th, if there’s a bottle of Dettori around life ain’t too shabby. Turning over a bottle of Dettori, I read the back label. It proclaims: “Sorry but we don’t follow the market, we produce wines that we like, wines from our culture. They are what they are and not what you want them to be.” And I guess that pretty much says it all.
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Up next: California, or; Why are you reading blogs on July 4th?