Pinocchio: It Takes One to Know One


How’s your Italian?  The latest phrase to learn: “Pinocchio Wine.”  This refers to a new Italian political movement “to protect the industry against artificial ageing techniques,” by which they mean use of oak chips.   

After serving a decade with the OIV Groupe d’Expertes Sur la Technologie du Vin, I can assure you that wine purity through effective regulation is not the Italian way.  That would be the French.  The Italian way is (surprise!)…LOOKIN’ GOOD!

If they really believe these techniques produce bad wine, then they have nothing to fear, as consumers will continue to choose their superior wines, no? 

What’s behind this Rush Limbaugh-esque coinage?  Why, it’s plain, old-fashioned, protectionism.  That’s right, unfair trade. 

Italy has made a name for itself for making good value wine. Rivers of good cheap Gavi, Greco, Chianti, and, of course, Pinot Grigio have flowed from Italy’s ports for decades. Bravo!  But now a few of them have gotten a bit lazy.

The wine industry has moved forward, and wine continues to improve throughout the world.  As the Old World looks for a protectionist edge, what could be more simple than to demonize progress?  They’ve been around longer, and are looking for ways to exploit those highly touted venerable traditions  There should be a law or something. 

The truth is that an air-dried, carefully toasted oak chip gives much more predictable flavor extraction than a barrel.  Barrels suffer from the Forrest Gump Box-of-Chocolates Syndrome – you never know what you’re gonna get.  Well-made chips give winemakers more control at a fraction of the cost to the consumer and to the environment.  That is why even the greatest and most expensive wines in the world now use them.  And that is why the industry moved on:  better, cheaper, more control makes sense in any language. 

Napoleon planted those forests for the French Navy of the future – a useable tree is 200 years old.  Environmentalists take note:  insisting on barrels extends the current practice of wasting 75% of the good, useable wood. So we cut down those forests at four times the needed rate in order to make poorer, more expensive wine to boot. Why? No reason except for LOOKIN' GOOD!

What’s artificial about an oak chip?  A better question: What’s traditional about a conventional Italian winery?  Let’s see ‘em ban electricity, stainless steel, refrigeration and freeze-dried yeast.  Doesn’t the consumer have a right to know about pesticides, enzymes, wine chemical additions, fining agents and inert gas?  Oops!  Wrong demons.  Sorry. 

In taking this position, the Italian politicians’ long wooden nose is growing.  Italians were the first Europeans to begin experiments with chips and other oak adjuncts.  Bravo!  Their scheming politicians should leave Italian winemakers alone.