Once again new Masters of Wine have been announced and once again no Italian is among them. This was expected because, as Alessadro Torcoli rightly said, the Master of Wine is not an Academy Award, it is the end of a process. We already knew that no Italian MW was on the point of passing all three stages. So no surprise.
Last time some article was asking if Italians are not suited for the MW program (my thoughts here). This time Italian wine journalist Franco Ziliani casts his doubts on the value of the MW program itself.
According to Ziliani, the only merit of many MWs is their English knowledge and the money they can spend for wine. He concludes that too much importance is given to this very British and “snobbish” Institute. Sorry, I don’t have the time to translate it, for details try Google Translate.
The article and the LinkedIn comments under it explain exactly one of the reasons why we are still waiting for Italian MWs.
Let me clarify my position: one does not need to be an MW to have an advanced knowledge of wine, or to know wine better than an MW. Examples abound: Robert M. Parker, Jane Anson, Andrew Jefford, Richard Mayson, Kerin O’Keefe. However this is far from saying that the MW Institute is irrelevant.
The importance of the MW institute is not decided by me, by Ziliani or by some superior authority. The importance is decided by the context one is referring to: a baker in Pozzuoli or a gardener in Toscolano Maderno probably could not care less about Italian MWs.
Is there any authoritative Italian voice in the International wine market? If we exclude some very charismatic producers like Gaja, no.
Can the Italian wine industry survive without an Italian MW? Sure it can.
Would it be better to have an Italian MW? Of course it would, especially for people working with Italian wine in an international context.
As MWs’ word has a wide resonance, Italian wine producers, exporters, retailers and sommeliers would benefit from an Italian MW promoting his or her Country in foreign markets, particularly now.
We can keep staring at the mirror and repeating ourselves how good we are in knowing wine, how the British are arrogant and how it is only a matter of language skills.
However if we look closely, we discover that nowadays almost half of the MWs are not British and that language is not just a whim, a minor detail: like it or not, English is the international language. Knowledge is useless if it cannot be conveyed to a public and at present, in this precise moment of History, the language with the widest potential audience is English. Not Italian. Let me also precise that, while the approach of the MW course is very British, theory exams can be written in the candidate own language, like also the research paper (which needs to be translated, but that can be done afterwards). Only the tasting part must be written in English (it is still a lot, that’s for sure).
Anyway, isn’t it silly to assume that a British person cannot know about wine better than an Italian only because he or she was born in the UK? Who is being snobbish here?
Do you want to know why an institute like the MW (but also the WSET) was born in England and not in France, Italy or Germany?
Exactly because the UK is NOT a wine producing Country. Not being a wine producing Country and having become, for historical reasons, the center of a commercial empire, UK consumes wines from all over the World. They can see the “bigger picture” at the expense of the details. Is it better or worse? Once again, it depends on the context you need to operate.
A similar institute would not be possible in Italy, where all you find at the supermarket is Italian wine, Italian wine and Italian wine. Japan is pretty similar to UK in this respect, and it is one of the reasons why I consider myself really lucky to live here, but Japan has lived most of its history in isolation while UK was the main political/military power for centuries. The Japanese could never create such an “including” organization, nor they have any interest in doing so.
One complaint that I have heard is that John Doe MW does not know about this or that Italian wine, so MWs are not such a big deal after all. I have a couple of remarks here:
– First, MWs are not demi-gods possessing knowledge about every wine made on Earth from the beginning of time to present. They are humans with a very strong knowledge in international wine, but with very different backgrounds. They specialize in different fields and Italian wine may not be their thing.
– Second, and a consequence of the first point: though Italy makes great, excellent wines, it is not the center of the wine World. To people who spend their life between Inzolia and Grillo or tasting verticals of Torgianos or studying the differences between Aglianico clones, this may sound bizarre. And yet, outside Italy there are few really relevant Italian appellations. The vast majority of markets do not care about wines like Malanotte Piave, Grechetto di Todi or Oltrepò Pavese. Consumers with a strong interest in Italian wine may know them and like them, but they are hard to come by and there are plenty of other options.
I teach Italian wine in Japan: I struggled to find a Passito di Pantelleria here and getting a good quality Marsala Vergine was a challenge. The same concept applies to many other Italian appellations. And we are talking about the Japanese market, which is VERY open minded (= you find stuff from everywhere) and really likes Italy.
Why should the MW institute bother with, say, Gaglioppo or Verdeca if these varieties are practically irrelevant in the international landscape? MWs specializing in Italian wine probably know them, others will be happy to live ignoring them. After all how many Italians know about the wines from Paarl or Margaret River? How many Italians approach New World wines without prejudices? How many of them would know the difference between a German and an Australian Riesling? I leave the answers to the reader.
This was a long post, far longer than I intended to write. I am not an MW, nor a candidate, nor I am paid by anyone to write this.
As I said, I teach Italian wine, I am not interested in bashing Italian wines for the sake of it. If I have a vested interest, it should be quite the opposite!
However the issue has struck a sensible chord in me. Maybe this is because I am an emigrant, I am Italian, but I started to learn wine when I was already outside Italy.
Finally let me always remind you that an MW with Italian passport do exist: Pierpaolo Petrassi.