“I am not a winemaker”. An odd comment maybe from a man who quite clearly makes wine, but one that impressed me. The man was Manuel Marchetti of Azienda Agricola Marcarini in La Morra, Barolo. His point was that he didn’t intervene, didn’t interfere with what he had harvested. No new oak, no fancy fermentation. He just shepherded the wine through its elevage in the traditional fashion.
I’ve met many winemakers, and I think that I can tell a good one without tasting his (or her) wines. A lot of it is about passion – it’s easier to make something you love than something that just pays the bills – though the ones that have impressed me most are the men and women who recognise that they are working with something that is alive, that maybe even has a soul, and that over-manipulation of their product robs it of that soul.
There is plenty of manipulation in Bordeaux, most obviously seen in St Emilion, where the key aim of many properties seems to be to impress the critics (well, okay, one critic) who like big, broody “fruit-bomb” wines. The paradigm property is Ch. Pavie, whose wines split opinions and provoke sometimes venomous debate. Whatever you think of the wines, there is no doubt in my mind that the wines of Pavie are “made” as opposed to being born. I first tasted Pavie from barrel in 2004. The wine was the 2003 vintage – a bit of a monster in itself, which maybe accentuated the wine’s rather Frankenstinian character.
Technically speaking – which is to say in terms of faults, balance, fruit and so on – there was nothing wrong with the wine at all. The fault, if that is the right word, though, was summed up perfectly by a fellow taster, one that had been tasting claret from barrel for many, many years more than I had: “You can taste the hand of the winemaker all over this”. You couldn’t taste Pavie: the soil, the terroir. You couldn’t really taste the vintage, which is some going in a freak year like 2003. What you could taste, what was the dominant character, was the winemaking, which is very much a fault in my view.