Alfonso Cevola is a leading wine influencer and a key figure in the Italian-American wine business. He is the wine director of the American import company Southern Glazers Wines and Spirits. His wine blog “On the Wine Trail of Italy” is among the most popular in the United States. In this interview, he tells us about his blog and his thoughts on volcanic wines and La Muntagna, the sacred mountain of Etna.
|Alfonso Cevola at Contrada Bastonaca, Vittoria|
When did you first get the idea of starting the blog and how did it change since its creation?
2005. I kicked the idea around for a while and then launched it in December 2005, but really didn’t get it going until a few months later. I had to find my groove, and writing is a discipline. But when the taps were opened, the words came pouring out. It has evolved into a more long form (essay style) kind of blog. I take most of my own photographs, but the writing isn’t from the Twitter, Instagram short form school No, it’s kind of olde-school. Delving deeper into a subject matter, not necessarily “newsie.”More of what I am interested in at any one particular time.
What are some of the most up-and-coming Italian wine regions today in the US?
For me, Marche, Abruzzo and Sicily. I still love Piedmont and Tuscany, they are always coming-up, rather than up and coming, with something interesting. I recently was in Sicily with Eric Asimov, who was on assignment for the NY Times. I was his photographer. Etna and Vittoria are definitely places of high interest. Marche and Abruzzo for me are underappreciated. Really solid wines; tasty, savory whites and rich unfettered reds. Good for my daily habit of breaking bread with wine. I really love wines (and the people and the food and the landscape) of these two regions.
When you think of volcanic wines what regions do you think of?
Etna, Campania, Basilicata and Soave.
What styles of wine come to your mind?
Reds and whites with firm backbones. Crisp, sharp, laser-focused. Hearty rose’s too.
Have you noticed a growing interest in wines from Etna in the US in the last few decades?
Yes, more in the last 5 years…
You have been to the Etna a few times. What does La Muntagna represent for you?
Etna is a sacred place, with those ancient vines and the even more ancient lineage of souls who have passed their lives working this mountain; this is the great argument to those who think terroir-driven wines are the only way. Yes, terroir, and Etna has a constantly evolving one at that. But without the human element, the keepers of the flame, these wines would be bulk juice for some merchant looking to make money on the mainland, in Italy or France. The wine community is forming. While Etna was a powerhouse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, those glory days are gone. Etna is in reinvention. You are witnessing the re-birth. It’s really exciting. And there are people from all over the world who have come to Etna to make wine. They know wine. They hang with their Burgundian and Piemontese and New California friends. It’s like one big giant reunion.
What Volcanic Wines do you like most?
I love Aglianico del Vulture, Etna Rosso and Bianco, Soave, Cesanese, Taurasi, Fiano di Avellino, Greco del Tufo, Passito di Pantellaria, Malvasia delle Lipari…
What are some advantages and challenges of selling volcanic wines in the US?
Any advantage will be to folks who are predisposed to thinking volcanic soil wines are preferable, and that is a very small minority. No, it’s more the story and the challenges faced by winemakers and wine growers who make their work in what can be a harsh environment. The struggle, the triumphs and the product resulting from those actions. Is the Volcanic terroir easy to communicate to the consumers? Not exactly… it’s part of a larger conversation – farming, to go organic or not, how sustainable the methods are in response to the overall ecology of the place, lifestyles, tourism access (think Tuscany or Napa vs. Etna or Basilicata).