Those who love their wines will tell you there is no greater joy than meeting around a dinner table, enjoying a convivial glass of wine (or more), and sampling interesting food pairings with the wine. It makes for a memorable evening as it has all the ingredients which go to make one of those: good friends (or new friends), good wine and good food.
I do attend several of these, and I love ’em. Mostly. On the odd occasion that the food pairings aren’t up to the mark or the wine is comme ci comme ça, well, you just chalk it down to experience. The ones that I really enjoy are the ones where the attending winemaker’s passion for his craft and product comes shining through: he weaves stories and anecdotes about his wine, which stay in your mind for you to re-visit every time in future you open the bottle.
Vishal Kadakia of Wine Park is a Mumbai-based wine importer who is finicky to the max about the wines he puts on his lists. Most often these are from boutique wineries around the world which might or might not be famous, but all of which offer fascinating stories to go with the wine being poured into your glass. Which is why I always look forward to his winemaker dinners. You can be sure the wine will be good, and you are bound to take away that little extra in terms of background tales. The dinner with Bibi Graetz wines was one of these.
I’m no stranger to Bibi’s wines. On a trip to Florence, my husband and I had driven up to visit his winery in Fiesole, that picturesque suburb on the hillsides overlooking the town, and then spent an hour on the narrow, winding roads searching for the winery where he makes his famous 90 pointer wines. With no luck. Even his neighbour didn’t know who Bibi was, or that a winery existed right next door to his villa.
Once we found it, we were amazed. This was a far cry from the elegant, manicured vineyards of Tuscany we had just visited. A beat-up car sat in the driveway to a cottage, and there were a couple of sheds, with a picnic table and kids’ toys strewn around. These sheds, it turned out, were where those precious wines were made and stored. Then we were rescued by his manager who took us around the estate, and lo and behold! Behind the sheds and warehouses was a lovely castle, now the venue of weddings and grand parties. Gazing at the gargoyles on the roof and the sprawling lawns, we were, to put it mildly, dumbfounded.
I mention this because though we didn’t meet Bibi Graetz that time (he was travelling), I soon realised thanks to Vishal’s stories that the juxtaposition of the arty, the eccentric along with the brilliant, pretty much summed up Bibi’s personality and ethos. For starters, the 46-year-old winemaker is half-Norwegian, half-Israeli by birth and Italian by choice. A trained artist who conceptualises and creates every stunningly colourful and eye-catching wine label for his bottles. His flagship wine, the 100% Sangiovese Testamatta (meaning hothead!) was the first to make wine critics sit up and take note, getting 98 points from Wine Spectator for its 2006 vintage. His Super-Tuscan Colore, the latest add-on to his list, has just 1800 bottles made, and has already has clinched the top spot on James Suckling’s Top 100 Italian Wines of 2013 with 99 points, where the Testamatta clinched fourth place.
It consists of 33% Sangiovese, 33% Canaiolo and 33% Colorino and is made from 60 year old vines. His mid-range Soffocone di Vincigliata consists of 90% Sangiovese and is creating quite a splash of its own. His entry-level 100% Sangiovese NV wine, Cassamatta (or crazy house – I told you there’s a delightful nuttiness here) has been making steady inroads into the Indian market as a wine well worth drinking. An excellent showing from a winemaker who took up his craft on a whim.
With Bibi Graetz, you can truly expect the unexpected.
So, at a wine dinner at the elegant Ritz-Carlton in Bangalore, Vishal introduced Bibi’s wines to a handpicked crowd of wine lovers in the presence of his young nephew, Emanuele Graetz, who has quite recently taken over as marketing manager for Bibi. The four course meal was special, and, as is always the case with Vishal’s evenings, peppered with memorable little anecdotes. The talking point of course, was the introduction to his latest entrant into the Karnataka market, Bibi’s now-notorious Soffocone di Vincigliata. Those who are familiar with the wine would be aware that it was banned in the US for a while for its risqué label depicting a sex act (though in a very artistically diverse way!) In India, the land of the Kama Sutra, it wasn’t the sexual connotation of the label that caused a stir at the Customs barriers, but rather the fact that no nudity was permitted on food and drink labels. So Bibi Graetz, the artist-winemaker sat down in his work shed in Italy with his marker pen and carefully sketched a mini dress onto the girl on every label going to India. If you talk about collecting winemaker’s signatures on bottles, this would be quite the signature to get.
Emanuele Graetz was quite excited about his visit to India. He spoke about the wines, how Bibi started in 2000 with just a couple of hectares of land and one morning, decided he was going to make some wine. “Winemaking really started as a game for Bibi,” said Emanuele, “He was a painter, so when he decided to make wine, it became like his art.” Thirteen years later, the little cottage industry has grown to 600,000 bottles a year, and is spoken by the world’s best wine critics’ top choices as being among the best wines coming out of Tuscany.
Bibi Graetz visited India last year, and was impressed with the huge potential for growth here, added Emanuele. “Though the taxes make it more difficult,” he adds. We agree.
Meanwhile, Bibi’s wines horizons are expanding by the day – he is clocking 400% growth in sales worldwide, says Emanuele. Then it is a very good chance that the next time we drive up to his winery, his neighbours might just know of this eccentric genius who has put Fiesole on the Tuscan wine map.
Dinner menu & pairings – The Market, Ritz-Carlton Bangalore
Fresh buffalo mozzarella/beef Carpaccio seasoned with white truffle oil, shaved Parmesan cheese
with Bibi Graetz Cassamatta Bianco
Zuppe – Natural essence of Asparagus in butter with soft poached egg.
with Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso
Red wine braised beef, polenta, green peas and carrot pearls
with Bibi Graetz Soffocone di Vincigliata IGT 2010
Bibi’s wines are priced in Karnataka starting from Rs 1983 for the Cassamata Rosso and Bianco to Rs 6048 for the Soffocone. Available at leading retailers and www.thewinekart.com in Mumbai. We await the Testamatta and Colore in Karnataka!