A few days ago, when the new Masters of Wine have been announced, as usual a part of the Italian wine press has lamented the absence of an Italian Master of Wine.
The linked article titles: “Italy is still waiting its first Master of Wine, maybe we are not suited for the UK course?”
Civiltà del Bere director Alessandro Torcoli (a current MW student himself) has given a very lucid and comprehensive reply here: in brief, becoming a Master of Wine is a long and elaborate process and it takes long years of study and dedication to reach this goal. Italy was late to appreciate the value of this certification. Now the “first crop” is growing, but a Master of Wine cannot pop out of nothing, thus it has no sense to lament each and every time the absence of Italian professionals in the Institute. We are not waiting for the new Messiah, we have to be patient. Then Torcoli contests WineNews statement: why should not we be suited for the MW? They have MWs in Spain, France, Greece, all Countries with similar wine background, why just us? The question is rhetorical, as of course there is no reason why there should not be an Italian MW.
Or is it? Italians are not dumber than anyone else, especially when it comes to wine, so I was annoyed by the WineNews article as well.
However in my humble opinion there are some very specific reasons for the lack of Italian MWs.
First, the plethora of grape varieties, wine regions and wine styles of the Bel Paese may lead the Italians to just concentrate on their (our) own Country, ignoring everything else.
In many fields we Italians have a BIG inferiority complex, as we often believe that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Corruption, immigration policies, bureaucracy, trains, public services, you name it. As a consequence, when we do know that we are good at something (food, wine, romantic love – maybe -) we often cling to it proclaiming that no one else can teach us anything on that topic.
Try asking some Italian wine enthusiast about American or Australian wine: unless he is very open minded (and possibly living abroad) you will be met with glances of confusion or even mockery. “Come on, how could Americans ever make good wine?” (1)
The Master of Wine Institute is based in UK and this fact already somehow disqualify it in the mind of some people: how can someone from the UK teach us about wine?
While we pat each other on the back on how juicy our grapes are, the world of wine goes on and Italy still doesn’t have an authoritative international voice in it. (2) Many of those with the skill to become Master of Wine just don’t understand all the fuss about it and prefer to invest their time in doing something else (a legitimate decision of course).
And there is another factor: at some point it is also very easy to slack off. Especially if you work abroad and you are proficient in wine, it is very easy to just become “the Italian guy”, carving your own niche where no one will ever disturb you.
After all, you know your share about wine and you are Italian: for what you need you are already quite an authority. Sometimes that is just what the other people expect from you, listening to an Italian talking about Italian wine. You like the role, it is fashionable even and the ladies find you interesting.
Just to be clear: I am not criticising this choice, it is perfectly fine, but still one runs the risk of becoming just the guy who knows about Italian wine and nothing else. This is hardly useful if you are eyeing the MW certification, where an open mind and vast international knowledge are vital.
Finally, I believe that we are quite different from French, Spanish and Greek. When it comes to wine French are probably similar to us, but their long history of quality winemaking and wine export has made them much more pragmatic and open to certification like the MW or the WSET. Besides, their ties with the UK have always been fairly strong, thanks to Bordeaux and Champagne. They have always known the importance of London in the global market and thus they have always been more open to listen.
Spain has a similar history (Sherry & the English; Rioja & the French), more projected to northern Europe. Greece has come late to the ball and so it has approached the world of fine wine with humility.
On the other side Italy has a winemaking tradition stretching for millennia, but due to its history we have always been fairly isolated, region against region, town against town, district again district.
Closed, each one drinking his own wine, while swearing that it is the best you will ever find. Anywhere. Even though they do not know what they drink 300 km away.
(1) Italy has never had its “Judgement of Paris”, meaning a resounding event where New World wines beat Italian wines.
(2) The most influential critics on Italian wines that come to my mind are Ian d’Agata, half Italian and half Canadian, and Antonio Galloni, of Italian descent.