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12.09.2004

A Pean to Luigi Veronelli, Wine Critic

I have a soft place in my heart for Roberto and the guys down at a little strip mall wine store in Santa Monica, California called Wine Expo. I stumbled on them one day on the way to a friend's house (I was in need of a bottle to bring) and quickly discovered that I had ended up at one of the best wine shops in LA and probably one of the single best Italian wine purveyors in the country if not the hemisphere. These guys know Italian wines like none other, and their newsletter is always at turns cracking me up and inspiring me to write with passion.

Recently Roberto mourned the passing of an Italian wine critic in said newsletter, and the quote from the critic as well as Roberto's heartfelt eulogy-of-sorts made get misty eyed. I reproduce it here for your benefit and education:

Finally, it is with great sadness that we recognize the passing of one of our greatest influences in the way we think about wine, Luigi Veronelli the dean of Italian wine scribes (poets, prophets?), who died Monday [November 29th, 2004] at 78 years of age. Some of you will remember this Rant-a-Torial from days gone by:

An opposing viewpoint (to some childishly simplistic wine as fruit juice compote fantasy of Luca Maroni, ed.) comes from Luigi Veronelli who submits what he says is an "extract" from a proposed book on the very subject that has been rejected by publishers with no vision or courage:

"to be great a wine must recount ad infinitum 'the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth,the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth, the earth...'"

This actually repeats for an entire page but you get his point: While there is a great deal of pleasure to be obtained from things like dark chocolate, truffles, wasabi, smoked blood sausage, really strong espresso and bleu cheeses (not to mention Henry Miller novels, Kurosawa films and Charles Mingus or Thelonius Monk tunes), much of the point of these is the juxtaposition and contrast of familiar, "pleasant" sensations with bitter, smoky, earthy, musky, discordant and even shocking elements. In short, real life encapsulated as is: cinema (or vinema or musica) verité that communicates a sense of time, place and culture on a visceral, even animal level. We have found that the most popular wines in our store are the ones that 80% of you LOVE and the other 20% HATE with no middle ground, an indication that they have real personality and a distinct point of view instead of pandering to a "universal taste".

I don't know what to say after that, other than whenever I re-read this paragraph I get all tingly and want to sing the chorus to Handel's Messiah. If only all of our wine critics and retailers were so honest and passionate.

Veronelli was to Italy as Robert Parker is to the USA -- If you could go by major international newspapers you would think his full legal name was Luigi Veronelli, Italy's Leading Food and Wine Critic. The man was simply a Titan of the industry there, and will be missed.

For those interested in perhaps less spirited but equally appreciative remembrances:

Jancis Robinson on Veronelli.

Decanter Magazine on Veronelli.

Farewell Luigi.

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