Allegrini 2018

Enoteca Pinchiorri: passion cannot be auctioned. “King George” Pinchiorri talks to WineNews

The path to success, starting from his “masters” Gino Veronelli and Beppino Lapi, to the recent auction that caused a buzz in the wine world

There are eleven three-star Michelin restaurants in Italy. Enoteca Pinchiorri’s stars shine bright in this elite group as a temple of food and wine, in via Ghibellina in Florence.
A small army of people manages Enoteca Pinchiorri in its daily commitments and rituals from the kitchen to the dining room. The chefs, Riccardo Monco and Alessandro della Tommasina lead an ordered brigade, in the rooms dedicated to preparing fish, meat, all the way to desserts. Since 1995, Alessandro Tomberli, recently awarded best sommelier in Italy on the “Fifty Top Italy 2020” has permanently managed the dining room.
Giorgio Pinchiorri and Annie Feolde lead this small regiment of taste and elegance, which is made up of 51 employees and seating for a total of 40 people. The visions that Giorgio and Annie have had over the years are visible in their eyes, their gestures and their colors. Their story came to life in the second half of the seventies, becoming a success that has attracted an international clientele to Italy, such as the rulers of countries around the world where bloodlines and lineages still exist to rule thrones, as well as top movie stars. But, they especially attract food and wine enthusiasts, and demanding customers that are willing to cross the English Channel by helicopter for one evening, just to dine in Giorgio and Annie’s “house”.
The doors of the temple of food and wine open up as do the tunnels leading to the basement, where the flash of a camera is not allowed, to not disturb a treasure that can be considered legendary: the wines in the Enoteca Pinchiorri cellar. It is a magnificent collection of rare and valuable wines, the maximum expression of the art of making wine and at the same time science, as well as inspiration. The guardian and creator that stands at the helm of this esteemed cellar is Giorgio Pinchiorri, who is not at all uncomfortable that some special vintage or signature may be missing from his inestimable collection.
Giorgio, whose distinguishing features are his enthusiasm, his passion and his eccentricity, is the king of his “three Michelin star” reign. He told his story to WineNews (also in a video interview that we will be publishing in the next few days), from the origins to present day, featuring the prestigious auctions that centered on a part of Pinchiorri’s immeasurable cellar.
“My teachers”, Giorgio Pinchiorri replied heartily, “were the “supreme” Luigi Veronelli, who taught everyone, and Beppino Lapi (at the helm of Buca Lapi, the historic restaurant inside Palazzo Antinori, ed.), who transmitted his passion for wine to me. When I used to watch the actress Ave Ninchi on black and white television, I noticed that one of the characters had a tastevin around his neck and I immediately thought what the heck is that. Then there was a tragic moment for the whole world, and especially for Florence: the flood on November 4, 1966. I was at the restaurant Buca Lapi, which had to stay closed for months, and that is when Beppino Lapi began to teach me his passion for wine. At the time, in the 1960s, I would see bottles with the words “Gaja” on them, and I thought it was the name of the wine, not of the producer. Angelo Gaja had foreseen the future and wanted to impose his name and quality. After I completed the course, I became the first sommelier in Italy that scored fifty-eight and a half. I lost a point and a half because they asked me to name the three vines of Lambrusco, and I am from Modena. I only remembered Salamino and Grasparossa and I didn't get the third. So it was all because of Lambrusco that I didn’t get the highest score. It is precisely that wine that I call a “Misunderstood Genius”, because even moving it from the wine cellar to the living room damages it. At the beginning of the story of the Enoteca, my love for wine reached a level of madness, as we had more than 100.000 bottles, and we served 120 people a day, since we were also open for lunch”.
Enoteca Pinchiorri was very different in the beginning from the legend status it is today. It was not a restaurant, but rather a wine shop. Giorgio had his first 3.000 bottles of wine and a great desire to bring a lot of wines from France, but also from Piedmont and gems from Tuscany. Giorgio described the early stages of the Enoteca. “This place was conceived as an Enoteca, which meant that it was downstairs where the wine cellar is. The restaurant came later, thanks to Annie. People came here to buy wine and then gradually we had the idea to also combine tasting. Actually, I only prepared meals for Gianni Mercatali and a few other friends. Next, we thought about the restaurant. Luigi Veronelli gave us a great boost at the start of our adventure, as he included us among the best restaurants, assigning his “Sun” to us. In 1980, we were in the L’Espresso Guide, in 1981 in the Michelin Guide, in 1982 we received our first star, in 1983 the second star and we were also part of Relais & Châteaux, in 1984 we received, the only ones in Europe, the Wine Spectator Grand Award and then more and more. Thanks go to all my collaborators, especially to Alessandro Tomberli. The feminine soul, elegant and French like a song by Edith Piaf, of the Enoteca Pinchiorri is represented by the very elegant Annie Feolde, who presides over the dining room. She is at the service of her collaborators, and every evening she shows up in the dining room to observe the ballet that is staged in an inseparable blend of dining room staff and customers. “In order to achieve the level our restaurant has reached”, Annie talked about the vision that underlies the success of the Enoteca, “we had to and still must think about excellence, the quality of what we serve and how we prepare it, and the people who manage the dining room also count a lot. We must be able to make our American customers realize how many good wines there are in Italy, and we must, absolutely, know what we are talking about. A restaurant like ours, in order to function at its best, must find quality products that taste good, especially Italian products, and make people aware of what we produce, because many people around the world do not know them. The wine shop is like our home to us, we opened it simply to sell and let you taste Italian wines, but when we started to be successful, we began to improve on it more and more, until we got to where we are now”.
Giorgio Pinchiorri has spent a lifetime observing and tasting wines from all over the world, and his palate is a historical archive of vintages, harvests, masterpieces and wine haute couture. He commented on the changes in the sector, in tastes and in the styles of aging, “the change in wine coincided with techniques that changed enormously. Wine that is “made with the heart and with the feet” is good and genuine, but it is not good wine”, Pinchiorri said, “because it does not have the technology needed to support high quality. It also has to deal with the “New World” wine producing countries where international vines have thrived. Cabernet Sauvignon, to date, can be from New Zealand, Chile, South Africa or Tuscany. However, the diffusion of these international wines, and the diffusion of native vines in each country, especially the Italian ones, run parallel. Making wine has changed a lot over the years, due to having enormous means. If you do not have the means, it is useless to plant grapes to make wine. Today, there are large investments everywhere. But, small producers also have the means available to them to make great wines. In the next fifty years, there will be countries that will aggravate everyone. For instance, in large nations like China or India, if the level of per capita consumption begins to increase, maybe not at the same levels as Poland but the Italian ones, there could be no more wine. I don’t know how they could make enough wine; perhaps there would be a decrease in quality. Making wine takes time, though, and quantity is not sufficient.
In the dining room, service is synchronized, like a dance, in which at least three waiters per table make sure the diner is completely satisfied, in the kitchen the dishes are prepared that dictate the style and direction of contemporary global cuisine, while on the lower floors the cellar holds the wines. As Alessandro Tomberli reiterates, it is of inestimable value, which cannot be quantified economically. Recently, the Pinchiorri wine cellar made the headlines (which WineNews of course reported, ed.), because 2500 wines were sold at a Zachys auction, for a base price of 2 million euros. The auctioneer’s hammer assigned legendary wines from the “Enoteca Pinchiorri: Legendary Cellar” collection: Barolo Monfortino Riserva Giacomo Conterno 1978 (2.600-3.800 Sterling Pounds), six bottles of Barbaresco Sori San Lorenzo Gaja 2015 (1.200-1.700 pounds) and two magnums of Barolo Artist Label Bartolo Mascarello 1990 (1.700-2.600 pounds); the great Super Tuscans, such as 12 bottles of Solaia 2015 (1.900-3.000 pounds), the Jeroboam of Tignanello 1978 (1.300-1.900 pounds), both by Antinori, as well as 15 liters of Masseto 2014 (9.500-14.000 pounds). Further, among the many lots at the auction, 12 bottles of Sassicaia 2016 by Tenuta San Guido (1.400-2.200), and finally, in Montalcino, four bottles of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Biondi Santi 1990 (1.400-2.000 pounds).
“I will tell you the true story about the auction. A friend of mine from Zachy’s came to eat at our restaurant as a customer. He drank extraordinary bottles of wine”, explained Giorgio Pinchiorri, “and made me an offer to participate in a large European auction. We were thinking about 2021, considering that, in October 2021, the Enoteca will be 50 years old and we had already been thinking of auctioning 7-8.000 bottles, also to help those in need. Then we decided to anticipate the event, and it turned out to be a great success. Since March I had spent hours and hours looking at and tasting wines to be auctioned. It was the first time my friend had come to Europe for an auction. In the end, we reduced the number of bottles per lot and he agreed to auction only Giorgio Pinchiorri’s wines. The event was quite successful, even too much so, as many people came forward who had not known I was selling wine, looking for rare wines, especially from France but also California, Tuscany and Piedmont. However, if it is necessary, I am willing to do another auction. I have committed to guaranteeing salaries to all my staff, in these challenging times due to the Covid-19 emergency, and for the future ... if it is necessary to organize another auction, I will do it”.

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