Sotto's Wine Program: "back to the roots" of the Southern Italian Renaissance

Jeremy Parzen is a food and wine historian, Italian translator, rock musician, Ph.D, and— as if it wasn’t enough— author of “Do Bianchi,” a highly regarded wine blog offering readers a humanistic perspective into the world of Italian wine and food. He also happens to be our Wine Director here at Sotto. Through his writing on Do Bianchi, Parzen’s mission is to offer non-Italian speakers otherwise inaccessible insights into Italian gastronomic culture. Consider it a success; Parzen’s blog is held as a leading resource for information on Italian food and wine in the US in addition to being featured in numerous literary works, scholarly essays, and magazines such as Wine & Sprits MagazineGastronomicaMen’s Vogue, and La Cucina Italiana, among many others. Parzen was also named last year's “Master of Place” by Wine & Spirits magazine and is currently in the running for the Corriere della Sera “Best Wine and Spirit’s Blog” award for 2017.

As fellow Italiophiles, we are incredibly lucky and gracious to be partnering with Parzen for our monthly wine blog series. Read below for the first many thoughtful posts with unique insight, and a cogent historical perspective into cultural value of Italian wine and food

When we first opened, the availability of Southern Italian wines in California was extremely limited. Today, six years later, we are proud to have had a hand in the "new wave" of these delicious and value-driven labels.

In the years that followed the Second World War, Italy was literally in ruins and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. And so was the once vibrant Italian wine industry. In the late 19th century, as phylloxera aphids decimated the vineyards of France (the Great French Wine Blight), Italy and southern Italy in particular had become Europe's fine wine growers. But the war changed all that: Nearly all wine production, save for farmers who made their own wine for personal consumption, was halted by the international conflict.

During the rebuilding of the wine trade and the replanting of the vineyards, a generation of growers followed the advice offered by French enologists and opted to go the "international" route by repopulating their vineyards with French grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but also Malbec and Chardonnay.

But a handful of courageous winemakers in the late 50s and early 1960s decided instead to replant using indigenous grape varieties of southern Italy: Aglianico, Casavecchia, Greco, Fiano, Pallagrello, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Nerello, Nero d'Avola, Frappato, etc. Another generation would have to adolesce before wine lovers began to take note of these wonderful varieties and the gorgeous wines they deliver. But even after the "renaissance" of Southern Italian wine began to take shape, few in the U.S. took note and even fewer appreciated the caliber and quality of these excellent wines.

When we first opened Sotto six years ago, we had guests who were nonplussed by our wine list.

"Where are your Tuscan wines? Your Chianti?" they would say. "Where's your Barolo? I don't drink Southern Italian wine."

It took some time and some patient hand-holding. But it didn't take long before diners started to appreciate these excellent value-driven wines, red and white.

Although the wine program at Sotto was initially devoted exclusively to Southern Italy when we first opened, we've strayed from that formula over the years. Notable "featured" regions have included Friuli, Liguria, and most recently, Piedmont "Anything but Barolo and Barbaresco," a focus on wines beyond the region's most famous.

As we head into our sixth year, we've decided to return to our original mission of sharing the joy and value of Southern Italian wines with our guests. When we first opened, many of the wines on our list today weren't available in California. And we are proud to have had a hand in bringing some of our most exciting labels to the state for the first time. Now, more than ever, Southern Italian wines are enjoying a renaissance among wine lovers throughout the U.S. We're thrilled to have been part of that movement and we're eager to get back to our roots.

Jeremy Parzen

Wine director