Enrique Mazzola at harvest time (Photo by Adriano Farina)
A classical conductor and his love for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Enrique Mazzola is a classical conductor, who currently serves as the Musical Director for the Orchestre National d’ile de France. He is also in demand as a guest conductor for symphonies around the world.
A native of Milan, he purchased a home in the Montepulciano area in Tuscany over a decade ago, and a few years later, he was named an ambassador of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano by that consorzio.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with him in Chicago, where he was serving as conductor at the Lyric Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor. I asked him about several subjects, including the link between wine and music.
Tom Hyland: I was told that you are an ambassador for Vino Nobile. Were you born in Tuscany?
Enrique Mazzola: No, I grew up in Milano. My connection with Montepulciano, is that in Montepulciano there is a very famous music festival during the summer called Cantieri Internzionale D’Arte. This was founded in the 1970s, by a famous German composer named Hanz Werner Henze and when he left, I was appointed by the artistic director. I didn’t know anything about Montepulciano. It was Christmas 1998 when I arrived in Montepulciano.
TH: When you first started drinking wine, what types did you try?
EM: I didn’t know very much about wines. I didn’t really have a passion for wines. Actually, I come from a family that did not have a passion for wine. So I came to wine, if I may say, as a virgin. It was a blank slate.
I took this festival as artistic director. I spent five years as the artistic director, but also in 2002, I bought a nice country house with olive trees, east of Montepulciano. Slowly, I started to know a lot of local producers.
When I left Montepulciano in 2004, I started an international career, so as I was not in Montepulciano, they didn’t see me. And so the consorzio thought “what is the best thing an ambassador can be?” Let’s think about Enrique Mazzola. He travels around the world and he can speak about Vino Nobile. He is in London, Moscow, Tokyo. This year, I made my New York and Chicago debut.
So this was around eight years ago. It was a very nice ceremony. I was appointed ambasciatore for Vino Nobile.
TH: What do they expect you to do?
EM: Well the role of ambasciatore, in my case, it’s a person who meets a lot of famous artists and personalities, ambassadors of other countries. The invited me to offer a bottle of Vino Nobile to these people.
TH: I’m sure there’s no typical year for you, but how many countries do you visit a year?
EM: This year, two times in the US. I’ve been in China and in Vienna and Paris and London. I will be in Zurich in December. The fact is that a conductor of an orchestra is a job with a lot of travel. You cannot imagine. I have my own orchestra in Paris, where I have an obligation for two months per year.
For my job I will be in Sao Paulo, in Quebec and I will be in Austria…
TH: I imagine it is an honor for you to be asked by these different orchestras. How exactly does that happen?
EM: I conduct now in Chicago because the general manager here saw me conduct three years ago and asked me to come to Chicago. Of course, I have a manager. But mostly, it’s the artists’s life. We get to be known. I have future plans to come back to Chicago and the Met in NY. I think I’m lucky, or blessed to work in such fantastic environments.
Now I consider Montepulciano my home, as I left Milano. It was a big economic change for me when I moved to Montepulciano in 2002. My residence is in Montepulciano. Before I came to Chicago, I had the chance to spend four days in Montepulciano – the only four days of the year!
Between me and Montepulciano, there are the vineyards of Caternia Dei, one of the most important producers of Montepulciano. So what I do, I went walking to her new cantina, which is amazing, it’s like a cantina. Between me and Acquaviva, there is Boscarelli. I like to visit them and taste the most recent wines. They offer me also wines that are in wood, works in progress.
When I’m there in Montepulciano, I like to get my hands dirty.
TH: People in American know the wines of Tuscany, but not so much about Vino Nobile. What has been your experience speakling about the wines of Vino Nobile?
EM: People use the word Montepulciano, and it’s a big question mark. One of my jobs is to clarify. Actually, the big job now is to explain Vino Nobile. This is unique. Of course, Montepulciano always has a problem with identity. It has nothing to do with Abruzzzo. My job is to explain that Vino Nobile is a great Tuscan wine. A wine with one of the longest recorded histories as wine history.
Today, the best Nobile is really a great wine and when you compare the prices of Nobile and Brunello, the price/quality relationship is always favorable towards Nobile. Of course, you can spend a lot of money for Brunello – I love a gorgeous Brunello.
Really my invitation to the public is “try to explore Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, because you will find unbelievable wines for sometimes half the price of a Brunello.” It’s a noble wine, it’s an important wine. Of course, I speak as an ambassador, but I say these things because I am deeply convinced.
In Tuscany, I drink many great wines. I drink Brunello, I go to Maremma for some of their wines. I am a wine explorer. There are more than 70 producers of Vino Nobile. I think it’s time to consider this wine. It’s been written about as a little brother of Brunello, and of course, the base is Sangiovese, which is called Prugnolo Gentile in Montepulciano. The way of thinking about Sangiovese is culture. Montepulciano has always been a capital. Montepulciano for centuries was at war with Firenze, allied with Siena, if you can believe that.
There was a tribunal there until a few years ago. Usually they are located in the provincial capitals, such as Firenze, Lucca. But Montepulciano was an exception; it had its own tribunal. Montepulciano always had this capital association. And of course, the arts… The wine has always been on a parallel track.
TH: Is it an accurate story about nobility owning the vineyards in the past, hence the name?
EM: It is possible; there is a lot of discussion about the name. In Montepulciano, we have records of wine from the Etruscan area. So I always felt this pride of the city that is more than Montepulciano equals wine, it’s Montepulciano equals history. It’s something more; it’s an aristocracy. Of course, I think Montepulciano wine needs clever marketing, like Brunello in the 1970s and 1980s. Montepulciano stayed back.
The consorzio just opened a new home – enoteca, offices and conference room. It is in the fortezza. Brand new home- I just visited it a few days before I came here and it is at the level of the name Vino Nobile. I see a big investment in the image of the name. I see many of the producers starting to see very good reviews. This means that our road is slow and uphill, but I appreciate that after all these years, Vino Noble is finding its own way.
When we talk to friends about Vino Nobile, they have a smile on their face, as they realize they are also conductors. They have to ability to blend together different aspects of wine. There is a percentage of Sangiovese along with local grapes; it’s like the different instruments in the orchestra and putting them together. The result of this combination is like a symphony, with different colors, different dynamics.
TH: Would Vino Nobile be more like a Verdi opera or Mozart or Wagner?
EM: Oh, this is a difficult question. This is a difficult question!
Well, Vino Nobile is an important wine. When you start to have a glass of Vino Nobile, immediately the perfume goes to your senses. It’s a wine requiring attention, requiring an important meal, like game.
So I would compare it to a production of a later opera of Verdi, like Otello or Aida, where there are large, dynamic scenes alternating with more intimate ones. I think this is more the picture of Vino Nobile. When you have it for the first time and then you decant it for one hour, you appreciate the power of the wine, like the triumphal march of Aida. When you pair the wine with game, it’s like enjoying an intimate solo. Does this make sense? Only in the late production of Verdi can you find this combination.