All you have to do is Google "wine tips," and you'll be inundated with enough information to make you dizzier than that third glass of vino. But according to Marina Cvetic, who runs the Masciarelli Winery in the small, picturesque village of San Martino in the Abruzzo region of Italy, it's a lot simpler than some people make it sound.
I spoke with Cvetic, who was back home in Italy, by phone on a day when bad winter storms had damaged roughly 27 acres of her almost 750-acre vineyards. Still, she was gracious and upbeat, with a beautifully thick accent and a rich, clear timbre to her voice. She was passionate. Not just about wine, but about motherhood, the land and sharing what she knows with other women. If Mother Nature had a voice, surely it would sound like Cvetic's.
Cvetic opened up about her passions — for her land, her wine and her family. And some of her philosophies are likely to be just a bit different than what you've learned about wine so far.
Cvetic, a native of Belgrade who grew up on her father's vineyard, is well-traveled, to say the least. She lived in four countries before settling in Italy with her late husband, Gianni Masciarelli, who started his winery in 1981, six years before he met his eventual bride-to-be. But make no mistake, she loves the Abruzzo region, east of Rome, where she now lives.
The rugged terrain, over half of which is mountainous with lots of sand and clay rather than rich, dark soil, isn't what a lot of people think of when they think "wine country," but the drastic temperature change between morning and night combined with the fresh breeze between the sea and the mountains contributes to the aromas and freshness of the wines. It may sound difficult to grow in a region like Abruzzo, but Cvetic says it contributes to the innovation in regional wines.
When I asked Cvetic what wine myths she wanted to dispel, I expected things like "it's a myth that you can't pair white wine with steak," but according to Cvetic, it's a lot simpler than just following a whole bunch of rules outlined by some masked man on the internet who calls himself an expert. While the wine-making process is an ancient art and may seem to be the same everywhere, it's not. And it's important to understand the culture of both the people in the area and of the winemaker to gain a true appreciation of what you're drinking.
Not every culture has the same appreciation of flavors or alcohol content, and understanding what's going on in the region where it's made — how they make their wine, what kinds of foods they eat and what environmental factors may affect the flavor of the wine — is a vital step in gaining an appreciation for that wine. A Tuscan wine and Abruzzo wine are necessarily different because the people and land are different, and the same style of wine may taste very different if they're from different regions. To appreciate both, truly, you have to understand why they're different.
Wine-pairing questions are probably the most common questions any expert is asked. Here again, instead of giving hard-and-fast rules, Cvetic takes a more basic approach. Because the wine follows the food, because it's such a big part of Italian culture, that means the local food culture will, necessarily, influence the flavors of their wines. The wines of each region will be designed to go along with flavors of the food they eat and the preferences of the people.
For example, the Abruzzo region is known for olive oil, tomatoes, pasta, bread and even spicy wild boar. While the unique environment of the region affects the flavor of the grapes and therefore of the wines they produce, the way they combine those grapes, their choices in the addition of things like local herbs, are going to be influenced by the food they eat there. The Masciarelli Cerasuolo Villa Gemma (an Italian rosé), for example, is more robust than a typical French provincial rosé. It's sweet but serious — a bit tart thanks to the use of pomegranate and wild black cherry, and floral because of the inclusion of local violet and lilac. Its intensity means it pairs well with everything from their local fish soup to pizza and sandwiches or even more robust flavors like wild boar.
That's not limited to Italian food, according to Cvetic. She even suggests pairing it with the strong flavors of Spanish and Mexican food. It's more about pairing it with food that has flavors they might have in the region and how that would translate to other foods than about pairing Italian wine with Italian food.
According to Cvetic, the wonderful thing about being a woman in the wine industry is how they share their wines and experiences. At a tasting at Vinitaly, they hosted women from other European countries, and the ability to share their different experiences, she feels, is a great help to their leadership and management. "[Sharing] leads to even more serenity in management but also can have some influence in the product, in the wine," she says.
"I bring a lot of time my children, they travel together with me. They're sharing my experience. They're enjoying the same passion — traveling, gourmet food and often wine," she explains.
But it's not that Cvetic has this whole supermom thing figured out. She's lucky. Cvetic believes that being a mother — having success at home and in business — is the most important challenge we'll face in the future. It's important to be able to share your life with your children, and many businesses prohibit that kind of overlap, which means women of today often feel they have to choose between being a mom and having a career. It shouldn't be that way. Says Cvetic, "It permits me to stay with them even during, not only for the weekend or only for the holiday, but also sharing the same passion. They understand me, and I try also to understand more [of] them. We speak and try the same language. They support me."
Cvetic has one last piece of advice that translates well to anything you might do for a living. She says in order to work with the land, you have to fall in love with it. It's a hard job, and there are a lot of sacrifices, and if you don't love it, it's hard to stay positive.
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