Friday, April 13, 2012

Imbottigliare – Bottle up

As I make our way down along the long narrow, poorly illuminated corridor I can hear bottles clanking. I turn the corner and immediately I’m hit with the distinctive smell of musty grapes. Carlo’s already at work. We have over a dozen demijohns to siphon and bottle – a few bottles shy of a thousand – so there’s no time to waste.

Everyone that lives in the provinces bottles their own wine. Whether you make it yourself or buy it from one of the dozens of small cantine within a 10-minute drive from home, bottling is an annual ritual. Two makes bottling light work. Like a conveyor belt, one to act like a pump attendant -filling bottles, from one to the next, using a spotlight so that each bottle is filled to just the right level – the other to place and secure caps, crate up and make space for the next demijohn.

Assuming no spillage, a 28 liter demijohn yields approximately 36 bottles of wine, plus a couple of glasses. Carlo never spills a drop. And the two extra glasses are essential for quality control. Least that’s what Carlo keeps telling me. Having controlled the quality on six demijohns we stop for lunch – everything stops for lunch in Italy.

A bowl of anolini (small stuffed pasta cooked in chicken broth), a pork chop with green salad and another bottle of wine later, we resume. The shelves now full, I start filling empty wine crates. By mid afternoon we move on to the white wine – more bottles and more quality control. The wines in Piacenza seldom ever receive more than a passing reference in international wine circles. Guttornio, a dry local red, is more often than not served slightly fizzy and chilled. The predominant local white, ortrugo, is also dry and sparkling. Few of the wines produced in the province ever travel beyond its border. Wines more suited to ‘quaffing’ than serious consideration, is the standard response from the wine elite.

There may be an element of truth in that, although times have changed and under the radar some seriously good wines are now being produced in the province. But that’s another story and one that, no doubt, I’ll come back to at a later date. However, for now, it is probably fair to say that for many locals wine is seen as lubrication (albeit a very pleasing lubrication) for the not so humble food that is served on a daily basis. But it’s lubrication not without purpose. It’s lubrication that feeds a tradition. There was a time when it would have been inconceivable to imagine a meal in Italy without wine on the table. For the most part that wine would seldom have cost more than the time and effort required to tend to a vine, crush grapes and siphon the product into a bottle. And for the most part it would probably have been bottled within shouting distance of the table. What makes that wine special is not the label – should someone ever have bothered to attach one – but what it has always represented: a way of life.  


  1. I watched this video with real interest Mario to see if any wine spilt. You see my husband brews beer at home (he has just started again recently). We need one of those level control things, or is it a trick of the eye. I like the sound of your 'ortrugo' wine - will have to make a trip to your area one day.

  2. Hi Cathy,

    Not so much a trick of the eye as a spotlamp we lie on the floor next to the bottles which lets us see through the dark green glass. It works, at least until the point where you have sampled too much of the wine! I'll happily treat you to a tour of the cellar if you ever happen to be in these parts!

  3. Its a shame you never made it into my Grandparents basement in Philadelphia. Part of it is a dirt floor wine cellar and the huge ancient wine press is still down there as well.