Natural Wine Talk with Elisa Pantano
Natural farming should not be considered only a trend, but rather a state of mind. Products obtained through this method, not only preserve biodiversity and landscape, but also guarantee an additive-free transformation process. In recent times, the wine world has seen the development of an interesting network connecting farmers and consumers ever more attentive to the needs of the earth, sometimes defined as terroir seekers, able to appreciate unmassified and unique flavours.
Venice, one of the most important Italian cities for the wine market, could not remain indifferent, in fact, thanks to a new generation of restaurateurs, the rediscovery of native grapes, and the work of associations of volunteers like Laguna nel Bicchiere, the city has become an interesting reference point for this type of consumption. Today I speak about this and more with Elisa Pantano, in front of a glass of white and a feast of nibbles, at the restaurant Osteria Anice Stellato, which she co-manages with her fiancé Estevan Bruno.
1) Elisa, tell us a little something about yourself: how did you end up here speaking about natural wine?
Well... I have been involved in the wine industry for over 10 years. I studied humanities and have a huge passion for all sort of stories, therefore my approach towards the wine world has always been influenced not only by taste and a certain alcoholic hedonism (know anything about that, Naturally Epicurean?), but also by the hands and heart of those who produce it with awareness and sensitivity. After having learned the abcs thanks to a sommelier course, I undertook my personal research tasting many bottles, reading books and essays, participating in trade shows and tasting events: now, I can say that I have also discovered my own very personal taste and preferences. To be honest, I am not a big fan of names and labels, and to the term 'Natural Wine' (which has become quite trendy), I much prefer the French definition 'Vin Vivant'!
2) Is there a person in particular that helped you develop this passion for natural wine?
Yes, Sandro Sangiorgi. He is one of the founders of Arcigola-Slowfood, started in the 80s, an extremely witty, independent and clever man, who has been directing for years the editorial project Porthos, project defined by the words rebellious, noble and a desperate.
Years ago, as naif drinker, I had the fortune to participate in an event led by Sandro and I was so enthusiastic that I wanted to learn more. The approach to wine was broad and multi-layered. "Wine has a rare evocative power: we hear its arrival in the glass, we see its different shades, hues and reflections, we make hypotheses that can be refuted by the odor test, we discover the gustatory tactility, we feel the wound of its 'hardness' or the warmth of a sweeter flavour, we enjoy its physicality, which goes beyond the mere tasting process and enters the world of personal and collective memories.
3)Do you think that women have a significant role in this sector (differently from other sectors)?
I have met many passionate female winegrowers and admire their tenacity and strength and I always hope to be able to convey at least part of their story when I serve their wine to my clients. I see an ever growing number of female sommelier, journalists, and restaurant managers in the sector, and this makes me happy because it gives me the hope that the new generations will be free from unfair conventions of the past. For example, it drives me crazy when someone says about a wine that it's perfect for women... it's just so anachronistic!!!! Or also when at a restaurant the wine list is handed directly to the man, without asking who wants to choose...
4) What reason (ethical, environmentalist, etc.) made you privilege these wines?
I was born in the Berici Hills, where my family grows a luxuriant vegetable garden: I had the luck to be able to observe the changing of the seasons, to recognise the perfume of rain before it falls, and to savour freshly picked greens. I believe there is no specific reason, but that it is a sort of general vision and lifestyle one chooses and tries to apply to everything : what we eat and drink changes inside our body and cells. There must be respect when producing food and we must cherish the land, we really ought to be aware of how the food we bring to our table is produced. Ethic, respect of the environment and biodiversity, and the unique and unrepeatable taste of a specific wine, due to the weather conditions and its year of production and its terroir, are the reasons why I prefer this type of wine.
5) To those who state that wine can only be divided in two categories, good or bad, what would you say?
That it is positive to cultivate curiosity beyond prejudice and to listen to the wine they are drinking. Sometimes it's good to let yourself be surprised and discover new things!
6) Staying in the Veneto region and speaking about vineyards, can you explain us the major differences between natural production and industrial production from the point of view of landscape preservation?
To be brief, when we say natural wine we refer to a wine produced through farming methods that exclude the use of chemicals, that preserve biodiversity (copper and sulfur are admitted in small quantities), and that are harvested manually. The same principles apply to the so-called cell practices: spontaneous fermentation through the wild yeasts present on the grapes or in the wine-making environment, the possibility of using only sulfur dioxide as 'helper' and -anyway- in amount way below those admitted by law, and non-invasive filtrations. Making wine respecting these principles is a real lifestyle, involving a lot of hard manual work that excludes the possibility of using chemicals able to 'correct' and standardise the produce. Natural wine-making is not only a type of agricultural work, it a real cultural approach to life.
7) May I ask you to share with us a regional wine that you are particularly fond of and why?
Before the explosion of the pandemic, we visited Cristian Moresco, founder Cantina Rarefratte in Breganze (in the province of Vicenza). Cristian works his vineyards with awareness and respect. His, is a project moved by the desire of recovering old native grapes of the area: just like a detective, he wandered through gardens and vineyards, spoke with elderly people and rediscovered and preserved ancient types of grapes and vines that were risking extinction. The person I met, is a sensitive wine-maker who cares about his territory, its history, and the biodiversity surrounding the vineyards. The wines are excellent, with a well defined personality. The wine I would like you to taste today is a Vespaiolo, which is a grape native of the Breganze area, characterised by the delicate aroma of white flowers, and that explodes in the palate through its acid and mineral freshness.
8) Can you suggest some simple recipes to accompany this particular wine?
I think that this wine would match perfectly a nice risotto with fresh peas, because the sweetness of such legumes and the sickness due to the starch would be balanced by the cutting freshness of the vespaiola... okay, let's stop now: I've suddenly become hungry and thirsty!!!
9) Do you have a favourite book about wine?
I would definitely suggest “L’invenzione della gioia” by Sandro Sangiorgi ("The invention of happiness"), an illuminating reading perfect both for those who wish to discover more about wine-making and for those interested in learning more about wine tasting. At the end, there is also a section called 'Visions and Lectures' where you can find various poems and prose works by different authors. Special readings that have the power to train our aesthetic senses, helping us better understand how to appreciate and interpret a natural wine.
I am very grateful for the warm hospitality and the time Elisa and Estevan dedicated to me. Just to remind you that theirs is a restaurant, I wish to share some old pictures of meals had in the last couple of years, so you can also get an idea of the type of food, based on seasonality and carefully selected ingredients.
I cannot but recommend a visit to their restaurant when in Venice. A real treasure, located in a slightly hidden yet extremely magical area of Cannaregio, with charming people, and amazing food.
That' s all for now... Take care and talk soon!
Address: Fondamenta de la Sensa, Cannaregio 3272 - Venice
Phone: 0039 041 720744